TOKYO• Japan yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki that claimed more than 74,000 lives, even as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came under fire for his attempts to expand the military's role.
Bells tolled and tens of thousands of people, including ageing survivors and the relatives of victims, observed a minute's silence at 11.02am (10.02am Singapore time), the moment the bomb from a US plane devastated the port city on Aug 9, 1945.
Mr Abe laid a wreath at the ceremony, attended by representatives from 75 countries, including US ambassador Caroline Kennedy.
"As the only country attacked with an atomic bomb in war, I am renewing our determination to lead the global effort for nuclear disarmament, to create a world without such weapons," he said in a speech.
He promised that Japan would continue to abide by its long-held principles: not producing, possessing or allowing nuclear weapons on Japanese territory.
Mr Abe was criticised for failing to mention the three principles at a ceremony days earlier in Hiroshima, alarming atomic bomb survivors - particularly when the nationalist leader is trying to push through legislation to extend the military's role.
Nagasaki survivor Sumiteru Taniguchi, 86, lashed out at Mr Abe's government for trying to revise the pacifist Constitution, accusing it of returning Japan to the situation before the end of World War II.
"The security Bills which the government is trying to push through would jeopardise our long-time movement for nuclear abolition and the hopes of hibakusha (atom- bomb survivors)," he said. "I cannot tolerate the Bills."
Nagasaki mayor Tomihisa Taue also criticised the government as Mr Abe listened.
"Worries and anxieties are now spreading among us that this pledge made 70 years ago and the principle for peace in the Japanese Constitution may now be undermined," he said to loud applause.
The unpopular Bills have already passed the Lower House and Mr Abe's ruling bloc has a majority in the Upper House as well. But surveys show a majority of voters are opposed to what would be a significant shift in Japan's defence policy.
Mr Abe later met reporters and defended the security legislation as necessary for peace.
He has faced criticism and opposition for his attempts to expand the role of Japan's Self-Defence Forces.
The changes would allow them to engage in combat - in defence of an ally which comes under attack - for the first time since the war.
A Constitution imposed by a post-war US occupation force prevented the military from engaging in combat except in the nation's own self-defence.
In the now-bustling city of Nagasaki, about 74,000 people died in the initial blast near a major arms factory from a plutonium bomb nicknamed "Fat Man". Thousands of others perished months or years later from radiation sickness.
The attack came three days after the US B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped a bomb on Hiroshima in history's first atomic bombing.
The twin bombings dealt the final blows to imperial Japan, which surrendered on Aug 15, 1945 to bring an end to World War II.
Japanese media reported that Mr Abe will not visit Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni Shrine for the war dead on Aug 15.
Mr Abe is a regular visitor to the shrine and his appearances often spark ire from Asian neighbours.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS