Atomic bomb survivors to attend Hiroshima memorial where Obama will lay wreath

Flowers are seen on the ground in front of the cenotaph, which is dedicated to the memory of the victim's of the atomic bomb, in Hiroshima.
Flowers are seen on the ground in front of the cenotaph, which is dedicated to the memory of the victim's of the atomic bomb, in Hiroshima. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

TOKYO (AFP) - Survivors of the American nuclear bombing of Hiroshima will be present when US President Barack Obama lays a wreath at ground zero this week, reports said on Wednesday (May 25).

Former US prisoners of war captured by the Japanese will also attend the event, the Yomiuri Shimbun said, with US officials hoping their presence will remove any impression that it is an apology.

Mr Obama will offer a floral tribute and make comments in front of a cenotaph for atomic bomb victims on Friday, becoming the first sitting US president to visit the city.

Earlier this week, he told Japanese television that he will not say sorry for the bombing.

American airmen launched the world's first atomic strike when they bombed Hiroshima on Aug 6, 1945, causing the deaths of about 140,000 people.

Tens of thousands were killed by the fireball that the powerful nuclear blast generated, with many more succumbing to injuries or illnesses caused by radiation in the weeks, months and years afterwards.

The southern city of Nagasaki was hit by a second bomb three days later, killing 74,000 people, in one of the final acts of World War II.

The speed, circumstances and repercussions of then US president Harry Truman's decision remain contentious. In Japan, perhaps a majority believe the mass bombing of civilians was unnecessary and may even have been a crime.

Many Americans believe that it avoided an even bloodier ground invasion of Japan toward the end of World War II.

On Tuesday, Hiroshima mayor Kazumi Matsui met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and demanded that Mr Obama meet with atomic bomb victims, newspaper reports said.

"If victims and the president meet face to face, he may be able to understand the feelings of the victims," Mr Matsui told reporters after his meeting with Mr Abe, the Yomiuri reported.

Mr Obama is due to arrive in Japan later on Wednesday for a meeting of the Group of Seven industrial powers, which begins on Thursday.

He will likely have a bilateral meeting with Mr Abe late Wednesday, top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said.