The Japanese city of Hiroshima is marking the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city by a U.S. military aircraft in the closing days of World War II. More than 50,000 people attended a somber ceremony on Saturday, and, elsewhere in the city, international groups met to renew vows to eliminate all nuclear weapons.
Thousands of elderly survivors of the bombing, joined by Japanese and foreign dignitaries, bowed their heads at 8:15 a.m. - the exact moment of the attack - offering silent prayers for world peace and for the souls of those who died in the atomic detonation.
Cicadas buzzed amid wafting incense in the hot and humid air, as an additional 5,375 names were added to the Hiroshima Peace Park cenotaph, bringing the total number of those considered to have died as a result of exposure to the atomic blast to more than 242,000.
Those who addressed the crowd at the hypocenter of the atomic explosion, repeated their annual vow of no more Hiroshimas.
Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, in his annual peace declaration, called on the United Nations to take specific steps to eliminate nuclear weapons by 2020. He criticized nuclear armed states - singling out the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea by name - as jeopardizing human survival by ignoring the majority voices of the people and governments of the world, who, he said, want to eliminate such weapons.
The mayor said Japan's pacifist constitution should be a guiding light for the 21st century. But many conservatives in Japan are pushing for that light to be switched to a different tint. They want to modify the American-imposed constitution, especially the article that forbids Japan from using military force to settle international disputes.
Japan's move to the right is also reflected in comments by politicians and academics about whether Japan should possess its own nuclear weapons, a topic not long ago unthinkable in mainstream discussion.
Earlier in the week, Japan's governing Liberal Democratic Party proposed that the country's military not be restricted to self defense, but also be allowed to join global security activities.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is viewed by many in Hiroshima as a key proponent of a more hawkish Japan. His brief and subdued remarks to the A-bomb survivors were received with respectful, but brief applause.
Mr. Koizumi said he offered heartfelt and deep prayers for those who died in the atomic bombing. The prime minister vowed that Japan would continue to be a leader against nuclear proliferation.
Mr. Koizumi will repeat similar words in Nagasaki, where a plutonium bomb dropped by an American bomber on August 9, 1945, killed some 80,000 people. Japan surrendered the following week, bringing an end to the Second World War.