A memorial service marking the anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing in World War II was held on Sunday in the city of Hiroshima, with tens of thousands of people from around the world gathering to pray for peace.
A moment of silence was observed, as part of the annual ritual to mourn the victims of the bombing, at 8:15 a.m.(2315 GMT), the time the atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima at an altitude of some 600 meters 61 years ago, killing an estimated 140,000 people by the end of 1945.
"Radiation, heat, the blast and their combined effects created a hell on Earth," Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba said at the ritual held at the Peace Memorial Park, a spot near ground zero when the bomb was dropped.
Akiba also said he expects Japan, the only country that has experienced the devastation of nuclear warfare, to take a potent role in the campaign of nuclear elimination.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi vowed at the memorial ritual to maintain Japan's three principles of not producing, possessing, or allowing nuclear weapons. "I will again vow that ( we) will continue to stand at the forefront to realize the abolition of nuclear weapons and permanent peace," he said.
A second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, and Japan surrendered six days later.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, in a message read on his behalf by U.N. Undersecretary General Nobuaki Tanaka at the ceremony, called for strengthening of non-proliferation regime.
"A world without nuclear weapons may be distant, but it is not a dream. The end of the Cold War made possible a measurable reduction in nuclear arsenals. That progress must now be accelerated and solidified," Annan said in the message.
The Hiroshima city puts the names of 5,350 people who died recently to the victim list, bringing the total number of atomic- bomb victims recognized by the city to 247,787. A total of 259,556 atomic bomb survivors were alive as of March 31, with their average age of 73.9.