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Hiroshima mayor questions nuclear nations' nationalism, wants Japan to do more

A little girl and her mother pray in front of a cenotaph for A-bomb victims at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima's Naka Ward on the early morning of Aug. 6, 2018. (Mainichi)
A cenotaph for A-bomb victims, center, and the Atomic Bomb Dome, bottom, are seen from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter in Hiroshima's Naka Ward on Aug. 6, 2018, as people attend a peace memorial ceremony. (Mainichi)

HIROSHIMA -- Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui told a ceremony marking the 73rd anniversary of the atomic bombing of the western Japan city here that some countries are "blatantly proclaiming self-centered nationalism and modernizing their nuclear arsenals," and asked the government of Japan to play a "proper role" in leading the world toward the entry into force of the United Nations treaty banning nuclear weapons.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, however, did not refer to the treaty in his speech to the ceremony, repeating the posture he took in last year's event held shortly after the treaty was adopted at the United Nations headquarters in July 2017. Japan is not supporting the international accord banning the production, possession and use of nuclear arms among its signatories. In his speech this year, Abe said Japan will "make strenuous efforts to serve as a bridge between nuclear powers and non-nuclear states."

Some 50,000 people attended the ceremony on Aug. 6, including hibakusha, or survivors of the atomic bombing, people who lost their loved ones to the U.S. attack in 1945, and ambassadors and representatives from 85 countries worldwide as well as the European Union. The international representation was the third largest on record.

Among five major nuclear weapons states, representatives from the United States, France, Russia and Britain took part in the event. China did not send its emissary. U.S. Ambassador to Japan William F. Hagerty IV made his first appearance at the ceremony since he was sworn in for the current post in July of last year.

All participants observed one minute of silence from 8:15 a.m., the time the Little Boy uranium bomb was dropped and detonated over Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, killing some 140,000 people by the end of that year.

During the ceremony, Matsui started his "peace declaration" with these words: "It's 73 years ago and a Monday morning, just like today. With the mid-summer sun already blazing, Hiroshima starts another day. Please listen to what I say next as if you and your loved ones were there."

Matsui said the number of hibakusha alive today is decreasing, and therefore "listening to them grows ever more crucial." The mayor then touched on the winning of last year's Nobel Peace Prize by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a worldwide network of nongovernmental organizations that pushed for the adoption of the nuclear weapons ban treaty, and said the spirit of the hibakusha "is spreading through the world."

Matsui also expressed hope for the easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula to proceed through "peaceable dialogue," as the U.S. and North Korea reached an agreement to denuclearize the peninsula in their summit in June.

On the other hand, the mayor pointed out, in an apparent reference to the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump and other world powers that, "certain countries are blatantly proclaiming self-centered nationalism and modernizing their nuclear arsenals, rekindling tensions that had eased with the end of the Cold War." Matsui criticized nuclear deterrence and nuclear umbrellas as flaunting "the destructive power of nuclear weapons and seeking to maintain international order by generating fear in rival countries" and urged world leaders to use reason and insight to abolish nuclear weapons.

The Hiroshima mayor regarded the nuclear weapons ban treaty as "a milestone along the path to a nuclear-weapon-free world," urging the government of Japan to play a role to help bring it into force. There was no expression in the mayor's speech directly asking Tokyo to sign or ratify the treaty, which requires ratification by at least 50 signatories to come into force but has been ratified by just 14 countries and regions.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abe said in his speech, "It is the duty of Japan, as the only country to have been hit with atomic bombs in wartime, to work tirelessly in pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons." But he emphasized that differences are emerging among countries on how to proceed with nuclear disarmament, and stated that Japan, under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, will "serve as a bridge between nuclear powers and non-nuclear states and lead international efforts."

The United Nations secretary-general urged in his speech delivered by Izumi Nakamitsu, high representative for disarmament affairs, that hibakusha continue to exert their "moral leadership" for the world to seek the abolition of nuclear arms.

Mayor Matsui and representatives of bereaved families of atomic bomb victims placed new lists of 5,393 victims whose deaths were confirmed over the past year, making the total number of atomic bomb victims at 314,118, covered in 115 volumes of the lists. Those holding hibakusha certificates numbered 154,859 as of March this year, the lowest on record, while their average age stood at 82.06.

(Japanese original by Azusa Takayama, Hiroshima Bureau)

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