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Nagasaki Holds International Conference on Nuclear Disarmament - 2001-08-09

The Japanese city of Nagasaki is holding an international conference on nuclear disarmament, coinciding with the 56th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city at the end of World War II.

University professors, lawmakers, politicians and peacekeeping organizations from 28 countries are vowing to work to eliminate nuclear weapons.

Professor Tsutomu Mizota of Nagasaki University is coordinator of the two-day conference in the Japanese city. He says "the world must not lose sight of ideals like a nuclear free world." "Otherwise," he says, "we will never reach that goal or achieve global peace."

Those same ideals were echoed at Nagasaki's peace park, where Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi joined mourners and survivors in an hour-long ceremony to remember the 70,000 people who died in the world's second-ever atomic bombing.

Standing close to ground zero where the bomb was dropped in 1945, people bowed their heads, folded their hands in prayer and observed a minute's silence.

The mayor of Nagasaki, Itcho Ito, then delivered a thinly veiled criticism of the United States. "A nuclear superpower is now insinuating that it may renege on international commitments in the area of nuclear disarmament," says the mayor. "We are vigorously opposed to these movements, which could negate efforts for the elimination of nuclear weapons."

The mayor is referring to the Bush Administration's push to scrap the l972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, which Washington argues is outdated and needs to be replaced with new security arrangements in the post-Cold War era. Critics argue that Washington's move could lead to a new nuclear arms race.

During the anniversary ceremony Thursday, a survivor of the atomic bombing, Sanae Ikeda, underscored the need for nuclear disarmament from a personal perspective.

Mr. Ikeda remembers seeing his brother burn to death after the bomb was dropped. He recalls how later all five of his brothers and sisters died. "Nuclear weapons will take a long time to eliminate," he says, "but we must aim for peace regardless."

The bomb dropped on Nagasaki caused a firestorm and widespread radiation sickness. A week after, Japan surrendered unconditionally, leading to the end of World War II.

On Monday, a similar service was held in the city of Hiroshima in western Japan, where 140,000 people died after the United States dropped the world's first atomic bomb in 1945 after Japan refused demands to surrender.