TOKYO (AP) — The mayor of Nagasaki on Saturday criticized Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push toward Japan’s more assertive defense policy, as the city marked the 69th anniversary of the atomic bombing.
In his “peace declaration” speech at the ceremony in Nagasaki’s Peace Park, Mayor Tomihisa Taue urged Abe’s government to listen to growing public concerns over Japan’s commitment to its pacifist pledge.
Thousands of attendants, including U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and a record number of representatives from 51 countries, offered a minute of silence and prayed for the victims at 11:02 a.m., the moment the bomb was dropped over Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, as bells rang. They also laid wreaths of white and yellow chrysanthemums at the Statue of Peace.
The U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945, prompting Tokyo’s World War II surrender. The first on Hiroshima killed 140,000 people and the Nagasaki bomb killed another 70,000.
The anniversary comes as Japan is divided over the government’s decision to allow its military to defend foreign countries and play greater roles overseas by exercising what is referred to as collective self-defense. To achieve that goal, Abe’s Cabinet revised its interpretation of Japan’s war-renouncing constitution.
Pacifism, enshrined in the constitution, is the “founding principle” of postwar Japan and Nagasaki, Taue said.
“However, the rushed debate over collective self-defense has prompted concern that this principle is shaking,” he said. “I strongly request that the Japanese government take note of the situation and carefully listen to the voices of distress and concerns.”
Polls show more than half of respondents are opposed to the decision, mainly because of sensitivity over Japan’s wartime past and devastation at home.
Representing the Nagasaki survivors, Miyako Jodai, 75, said that Abe’s government was not living up to expectations.
Jodai, a retired teacher who was exposed to radiation just 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) from ground zero, said that the defense policy that puts more weight on military power was “outrageous” and a shift away from pacifism.
“Please stand by our commitment to peace. Please do not forget the sufferings of the atomic bombing survivors,” Jodai said at the ceremony.
The number of surviving victims, known as “hibakusha,” was just more than 190,000 this year across Japan. Their average age is 79. In Nagasaki, 3,355 survivors died over the past year, while 5,507 passed away in Hiroshima.
Abe kept his eyes closed and sat motionless as he listened to the outright criticism, rare at a solemn ceremony.
In his speech, he did not mention his defense policy or the pacifist constitution. He repeated his sympathy to the victims and said Japan as the sole victim of nuclear attacks has the duty to take leadership in achieving a nuclear-free society, while telling the world of the inhumane side of nuclear weapons.
The speech had minor tweaks from last year’s, after Abe faced criticism that the speech he delivered in Hiroshima on Thursday was almost identical to the one from the previous year, Kyodo News reported.
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