Japan is marking the 58th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima during World War II. At a ceremony in the city, attended by thousands, Hiroshima's mayor accused the United States of what he called "nuclear worship."
Fifty-eight years to the moment after a U.S. atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the Peace Bell tolled and doves were released near the epicenter in the city's Peace Park amid the shrill of cicadas in the summer heat.
At the annual ceremony Hiroshima's mayor, Tadatoshi Akiba, said the atomic bombing victims these days fear that once again there could be nuclear mushroom clouds spilling black rain.
Mayor Akiba says current U.S. nuclear policy - which does not rule out a preemptive first strike in a potential conflict - is endangering the global Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He says Washington "appears to worship nuclear weapons as God."
The Hiroshima mayor, using unusually tough words in his annual Peace Declaration, also called on President Bush, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and leaders of all nuclear nations to visit his city and learn the reality of nuclear war.
Survivors, whose average age is now above 70, say they are worried that fading memories of the atomic attack will mean Japan will increasingly move away from its post World War Two pacifism. Some even worry that Japan, one day, might even arm itself with nuclear weapons.
But Prime Minister Koizumi, speaking at the ceremony, said that Japan would not head in that direction. He pledged that Japan would take the lead in trying to eliminate nuclear weapons in the world. Mr. Koizumi says Japan will push for disarmament urging more countries to ratify the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The 58th anniversary comes amid increasing tension in the world over nuclear proliferation. North Korea has announced it wants to develop nuclear arms, there are concerns about whether Iran may be on that course and the United States is moving to resume research into so-called "mini-nukes."
At this year's Hiroshima ceremony, the names of more than five-thousand people recognized as atomic bomb victims who died since last year were added to the memorial cenotaph. That brings the total number of victims to nearly 232,000.
Approximately 140,000 people died when the United States dropped a uranium bomb on Hiroshima in the closing days of the Second World War. It marked the first use of nuclear weapons in warfare. Three days later, a plutonium warhead was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Japan surrendered less than a week later, bringing an end to World War II.