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Nagasaki Marks Anniversary of Nuclear Bombing - 2003-08-09


Japan has been marking the anniversaries of the two atom bombs dropped by America to end World War II, but the commemorations this year come as the country is beginning to debate its post-war pacifist policies.

At the exact moment 58 years after a flash turned the skies whiter than anyone had ever seen, the Nagasaki Bell tolled for one minute and the city paused for a moment of silence.

An estimated 74,000 people were killed and roughly an equal number injured when a 19 kiloton plutonium bomb detonated over Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. The horrific blast melted steel and spewed radiation into the skies. Six days later, Japan surrendered, bringing the Second World War to an end.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi looked on Saturday as Nagasaki Mayor Itcho Ito, who was born two weeks after the bombing, said many of the survivors continue to suffer physically and mentally.

Mayor Ito called for an end to nuclear proliferation. He says leaders of the United States and other nations with nuclear weapons should visit Nagasaki's museum to witness the effects of what he called the "instruments of devastation."

The annual August ceremonies remembering the two atomic attacks, in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, come at a time when Japan appears to be thinking of moving away from its post-World War II tradition of pacifism.

The shift in thinking has been prompted by what are perceived as increased threats from North Korea, which has declared its intention to build and maintain nuclear weapons. North Korea is also believed to have, or soon to have, ballistic missiles capable of delivering such bombs to Japanese cities.

The changing situation has led to talk about doing away with the ultimate taboo here; namely, for Japan to possess its own nuclear weapons.

Prime Minister Koizumi reiterated in Nagasaki Saturday what he said three days earlier at the commemoration of the Hiroshima bombing - that his administration will not move in that direction.

Mr. Koizumi says Japan will maintain its pacifist Constitution and uphold its principles of not building, possessing or allowing nuclear weapons into the country.

However, the nuclear issue has been broached since last year's memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by two prominent politicians who are also top advisers to the prime minister. Proponents of such a move say Japan should, at the least, assert its right to bear nuclear weapons.