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Nagasaki marks 75th anniversary of atomic bombing with a plea to world leaders

The Japanese city of Nagasaki on Sunday marked the 75th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing, with the mayor and dwindling survivors urging world leaders including their own to do more for a nuclear weapons ban.

At 11:02 a.m. local time, the moment the B-29 bomber Bockscar dropped a 4.5-tonne plutonium bomb dubbed “Fat Man,” Nagasaki survivors and other participants stood in a minute of silence to honour more than 70,000 dead.

The Aug. 9, 1945, bombing came three days after the United States dropped its first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the world’s first ever nuclear attack that killed 140,000. On Aug. 15, Japan surrendered, ending the Second World War.

Many survivors developed cancer or other illnesses due to their exposure to radiation and suffered discrimination.

At the event at Nagasaki Peace Park, scaled down because of the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Tomihisa Taue read a peace declaration in which he raised concern that nuclear states had in recent years retreated from disarmament efforts.

High school students offer flowers for the victims of the atomic bombing on Sunday. (Kyodo News via The Associated Press)

Instead, they are upgrading and miniaturizing nuclear weapons for easier use, he said. Taue singled out the U.S. and Russia for increasing risks by scrapping the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

“As a result, the threat of nuclear weapons being used is increasingly becoming real,” Taue said.

He said that “the true horror of nuclear weapons has not yet been adequately conveyed to the world at large” despite struggle and efforts by hibakusha, or atomic bombing survivors, to make Nagasaki the last place of the tragedy.

He also urged Japan’s government and lawmakers to quickly sign the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Doves fly over the Statue of Peace during a ceremony at Nagasaki Peace Park in Nagasaki, southern Japan Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, to mark the 75th anniversary of the world’s second atomic bomb attack. (Kyodo News via The Associated Press)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly refused to sign the treaty, saying Japan’s approach is not to take sides but to serve as a bridge between nuclear and non-nuclear states to encourage dialogue to achieve a total nuclear ban. Survivors and pacifist groups say Japan is virtually siding with the U.S. and other nuclear states.

“Among the nuclear-weapon states and countries under the nuclear umbrella, there have been voices stating that it is too early for such a treaty. That is not so,” Taue said. “Nuclear arms reductions are far too late in coming.”

While Tokyo renounces its own possession, production or hosting of nuclear weapons, as a U.S. ally Japan hosts 50,000 American troops and is protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The post-Second World War security arrangement complicates the push to get Japan to sign the treaty as it beefs up its own military to deal with threats from North Korea and China, among others.

An aging group of survivors has expressed a growing sense of urgency to tell their stories, in hopes of reaching younger generations to continue their effort toward establishing a nuclear-free world.

Many peace events, including survivors’ talks leading up to the anniversary, were cancelled because of the coronavirus, but some survivors have teamed up with students and pacifist groups to speak at online events.

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