HIROSHIMA // A bell tolled to mark a moment of silence while people joined hands in prayer as tens of thousands marked the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima yesterday.
Ageing survivors, relatives, government officials and foreign delegates attended an annual ceremony at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park commemorating the US bombing of the city nearly seven decades ago, as a rising tide of anti-nuclear sentiment swells in post-Fukushima Japan.
"On this day, in this city, let me proclaim again: there must never be another nuclear attack - never," said Angela Kane, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, reading a message from the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon.
"Such weapons have no legitimate place in our world. Their elimination is both morally right and a practical necessity in protecting humanity."
An American B-29 bomber named Enola Gay dropped an atom bomb on August 6, 1945, turning the western Japanese city into a nuclear inferno and killing an estimated 140,000 in the final chapter of the Second World War.
At 8.15am yesterday, the time of detonation, the toll of a bell set off the minute of silence as pedestrians came to a standstill and bowed slightly, linking hands under a scorching sun.
Some 50,000 people attended the official ceremony, while thousands of others joined demonstrations, marches, forums, and concerts held across the city.
In separate rallies, more than 7,000 people, including atom bomb survivors and evacuees from the Fukushima area, staged anti-nuclear demonstrations, the latest in a series of protests triggered by last year's crisis.
An earthquake-sparked tsunami left some 19,000 dead or missing and knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, causing meltdowns that spread radiation over a large area and forced thousands to leave their homes.
Usually sedate Japan has seen a string of anti-nuclear protests since the prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, in June ordered the restart of two reactors.
Many atom bomb survivors, known as "hibakusha", oppose both military and civil use of nuclear power, pointing to the tens of thousands who were killed instantly in the Hiroshima blast and the many more who later died from radiation sickness and cancers linked to the attack.
"We want to work together with people in Fukushima and join our voices calling for no more nuclear victims," said Toshiyuki Mimaki, 70, an atom bomb survivor.
Kumiko Okamoto, 38, said: "There is no difference between atom bombs and nuclear accidents."
Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui called on the government "to establish without any delay an energy policy that guards the safety and security of the people".
But Mr Noda, who also attended the event, only said: "We will establish an energy mix with which people can feel safe in the long- and medium-term, based on our policy that we will not rely on nuclear power."