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Politics

Nagasaki mayor calls on Japan to sign nuclear prohibition treaty

Appeal comes on 74th anniversary of city's atomic bombing

People pray for victims of the 1945 atomic bombing at Nagasaki's Urakami Cathedral, about 500 meters east-northeast of the bomb's hypocenter, on Aug. 9. (Photo by Shinya Sawai)

NAGASAKI (Kyodo) -- Nagasaki marked the 74th anniversary Friday of the U.S. atomic bombing of the city in World War II, with Mayor Tomihisa Taue calling at the annual memorial ceremony on the Japanese government to immediately sign a U.N. treaty banning nuclear weapons.

"As the only country in the world to have experienced the devastation caused by nuclear weapons, Japan must sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as soon as possible," Taue said in the annual declaration.

The mayor also urged the central government to sign the international treaty at the two previous annual ceremonies, but this year he used a stronger and more direct expression.

The treaty was adopted in July 2017 by 122 U.N. members but is not yet in force as it has not been ratified by the required 50 states.

Japan has refused to sign the treaty along with other countries under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, as have the world's nuclear weapons states.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also delivered a speech at the ceremony, saying Japan will continue its efforts to be a "bridge between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states" and realize a world without nuclear weapons. But he did not mention the treaty.

At a press conference on Tuesday after attending the annual memorial ceremony for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Abe indicated Japan is not considering joining the treaty, which he said does not reflect security realities.

Attended by representatives from around 70 countries including all five recognized nuclear powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- as well as the United Nations and the European Union, the annual memorial ceremony was held at the Peace Park.

As a step toward joining the treaty, Taue called on Japan "to seize the trend toward denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and to initiate efforts to make Northeast Asia a nuclear-free zone where all countries coexist under, not a 'nuclear umbrella,' but a 'non-nuclear umbrella.'"

Civil society "has shown the power time and again to change the world," he said, citing the important role played by citizens in concluding the treaty. "The power of a single individual is small but by no means weak."

He also said the world is now in an "extremely dangerous" situation as the opinion that nuclear weapons are useful is "once again gaining traction" and the danger of a nuclear calamity is "mounting."

Referring to the review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty next spring, the keystone of the international nuclear disarmament regime, Taue said, "All the nuclear states should recall the meaning of the treaty."

The anniversary ceremonies in the two cities were held amid concern about a new arms race following the United States' formal withdrawal last week from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed with Russia in 1987.

Taue called on the United States and Russia to "assume responsibility as nuclear superpowers" by setting a specific course to "drastically reduce nuclear stockpiles."

"The atomic bombs were built by human hands and exploded over human heads. It follows that nuclear weapons can be eliminated by an act of human will," the mayor said.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a message, "The only true guarantee against the use of nuclear weapons is their total elimination," adding, "This remains the United Nations' and my personal highest disarmament priority."

Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki in November during the first papal visit to Japan since that of John Paul II in February 1981.

Nagasaki has numerous sites linked to the history of Japan's Christians, who were persecuted in the 17th to 19th centuries.

A moment of silence was observed at 11:02 a.m., the exact time on Aug. 9, 1945, when a plutonium-core atomic bomb codenamed "Fat Man" dropped by a U.S. bomber exploded over the southwestern Japan city, three days after the United States dropped the world's first deployed atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

An estimated 74,000 people had died as a result of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki by the end of 1945, according to the city.

The combined number of surviving hibakusha from the two atomic bombings stood at 145,844 as of March, down about 9,000 from a year earlier.

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