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ICAN campaigner Thurlow moves audience with emotional Nobel Peace Prize speech

OSLO -- Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, drew enthusiastic applause and moved some people to tears as she spoke on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) at the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Award ceremony here on Dec. 10.

It was the first time for an A-bomb survivor, or hibakusha, to speak at the ceremony. During her speech, Thurlow, who is now 85, gave a graphic description of her experience during the atomic bombing, while giving a strong message to the next generation across the world never to give up in their pursuit of the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Thurlow entered the venue in a wheelchair, wearing a black dress said to have been remade from a kimono that had been worn by her late mother. Supported by ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn, who was wearing a white dress, she received a medal from the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen. Elayne Whyte Gomez, permanent representative of Costa Rica to the U.N. Office at Geneva, who presided over the U.N. conference for the nuclear weapons ban treaty, was also at the ceremony, and appeared emotional.

Addressing the audience with a distorted expression at times, Thurlow spoke of her painful experiences in the bombing of Hiroshima 72 years ago. She was among the population of students mobilized to work during the war, and was at her workplace 1.8 kilometers from the hypocenter when the atomic bomb exploded over the city on Aug. 6, 1945. She became trapped under smoldering rubble, but she heard a man call to her, "Don't give up! Keep pushing! I am trying to free you. See the light coming through that opening? Crawl towards it as quickly as you can." As she crawled out, she said, the ruins were on fire, and most of her classmates in the building were burned to death.

Thurlow also recalled her 4-year-old nephew who she said "kept begging for water in a faint voice until his death released him from agony." She said his body "had been transformed into an unrecognizable melted chunk of flesh," and added, "To me, he came to represent all the innocent children of the world, threatened as they are at this very moment by nuclear weapons."

"Every second of every day, nuclear weapons endanger everyone we love and everything we hold dear. We must not tolerate this insanity any longer," she said, eliciting lasting applause.

Thurlow has been involved in campaigning for the elimination of nuclear weapons since moving to Canada. Toward the end of her speech, she hailed the nuclear ban treaty that was adopted earlier in the year.

"Our light now is the ban treaty," she said. "To all in this hall and all listening around the world, I repeat those words that I heard called to me in the ruins of Hiroshima: 'Don't give up! Keep pushing! See the light? Crawl towards it.'"

After her speech, Thurlow said she felt great joy, but also felt that she had inherited a great responsibility. With renewed resolve, she said that she had painted a picture of the path toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.

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