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Hiroshima marks 69th anniversary of atomic bombing
ABC Radio Australia - August 6, 2014
Bells tolled as ageing survivors, relatives, government officials and foreign delegates observed a moment of silence in the rain at the exact time the atomic bomb was dropped from the US bomber Enola Gay. The detonation turned the western Japanese city into an inferno.
At the ceremony in Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima a list of nearly 300,000 victims were placed inside a monument. Hiroshima mayor Kazumi Matsui called on nuclear armed nations to disarm and urged Japan to continue as a nation of peace.
He urged people to listen to the voices of survivors as he delivered a speech at the ceremony also attended by prime minister Shinzo Abe, US ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and representatives from 67 countries.
"'Water, please.' Voices from the brink of death are still lodged in the memory of a boy who was 15 and a junior high student," Mr Matsui said, referring to the memories of a survivor.
"The pleas were from younger students, their badly burned, grotesquely swollen faces, eyebrows and eyelashes singed off, school uniforms in ragged tatters," he said, adding the survivor's grisly description of what he had seen.
The mayor noted that many survivors feel profound guilt over living through the attack. "People who rarely talked about the past because of their ghastly experiences are now, in old age, starting to open up," he said.
The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by an American B-29 bomber named Enola Gay on August 6, 1945, in one of the final chapters of World War II.
By December that year, 140,000 residents were dead. On August 9, the port city of Nagasaki was also bombed, killing an estimated 70,000 people.
Japan surrendered days later on August 15, 1945 bringing the war to a close. Historians have long been at odds over whether the twin attacks brought a speedier end to the war by forcing Japan's surrender and preventing many more casualties in a planned land invasion.
The bombed cities have spearheaded anti-nuclear movements, calling atomic bombs "the absolute evil".
Last week, US media reported the death of Theodore Van Kirk, the last surviving crewman of the Enola Gay, who passed away aged 93. A funeral was reportedly scheduled for August 5 in his hometown of Northumberland, Pennsylvania, which would coincide with the Hiroshima anniversary in Japan.
Anti-nuclear sentiment flared in Japan after the 2011 earthquake-sparked tsunami left some 19,000 dead or missing and knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
None of those deaths were directly attributed to the nuclear crisis. But the reactor meltdowns spread radiation over a large area and forced thousands to leave their homes in the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
Despite strong public opposition, Japan's nuclear watchdog last month said that two atomic reactors were safe enough to switch back on.
The decision marked a big step towards restarting the country's nuclear plants, which were shut after the disaster, and sparked accusations that the regulator was a puppet of the powerful atomic industry. (ABC/AFP)