Atomic bomb survivors and activists gave a cautious welcome to the Group of Seven leaders' historic Hiroshima Peace Park visit on Friday and summit being held in the western Japanese city, with some hoping that the events will serve as a turning point in efforts to achieve a world without nuclear weapons.

G-7 heads, including U.S. President Joe Biden, came together for the first time as one to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, where they spent around 40 minutes and met a survivor, while also offering flowers at a cenotaph to victims of the atomic bombing in the peace park. The attack killed some 140,000 people in the city by the end of 1945.

Keiko Ogura, an 85-year-old survivor of the August 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, meets the press in Hiroshima after holding brief talks with the Group of Seven leaders during their visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum on May 19, 2023, on the first day of the three-day summit in the western Japan city. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

"It felt like a dream come true," said Keiko Ogura, 85, after meeting the leaders at the museum and urging them to experience the reality of the bombing "through my eyes and my heart."

A prominent atomic bomb survivor and campaigner who has been an English interpreter for peace activities for decades, Ogura said she felt the leaders had seriously engaged during the visit.

It was the first time for leaders of the nuclear-possessing states Britain and France to tour the museum and the second by a sitting U.S. President.

Toshiyuki Mimaki, head of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations, questioned whether the leaders had "been able to see everything we wanted them to" in under an hour. But he expressed hope they would "describe the horrors when they return to their home countries."

The Group of Seven leaders stand in front of the cenotaph for atomic bomb victims at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima on May 19, 2023, the first day of the three-day summit in the western Japan city. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Toshiko Tanaka, an 84-year-old who was exposed to the bomb at age 6, said she hoped the visit "might make the leaders realize the problems of relying on nuclear weapons for security, and serve as a crossroads to even a slight change in their approaches."

Amid heightened nuclear tensions worldwide since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has made realizing a "world without nuclear weapons" a central theme.

His position as a lawmaker representing Hiroshima has been instrumental in bringing the meeting to the city.

Hiroshi Takakusaki, a 79-year-old representative of the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs, said that "holding the G-7 this year in Hiroshima is by itself significant."

"Japan as a country can show leadership toward nuclear disarmament. That is our greatest wish," Takakusaki said.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (L) and U.S. President Joe Biden sign a guestbook at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima on May 19, 2023, on the first day of the three-day Group of Seven summit in the western Japan city. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

A Kyodo News survey of atomic bomb survivors conducted earlier this year found that while 88.3 percent of respondents approved of the choice to host the summit in the city, more than two-thirds also said they did not think the summit would produce any tangible progress toward the prime minister's stated goal.

In the run-up to the summit, multiple groups representing survivors and anti-nuclear activists had called on the government to ensure the leaders met people with experience of the bombing while it is still possible.

Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry figures as of the end of March 2022 show there were 118,935 officially confirmed atomic bomb survivors, or hibakusha, with an average age exceeding 84 years old.

The leaders' stay inside the museum was significantly longer than the 10 minutes spent by then President Barack Obama when he became the first sitting U.S. head of state to visit in 2016.

But the government was cagey about details of what had taken place inside, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, saying that "preparations were made to ensure leaders saw important exhibits in keeping with the museum's main themes."

A diplomatic source said the G-7 leaders saw some of the permanent exhibitions in the main building, which included photos capturing the destruction in the aftermath of the dropping of the atomic bomb.

Referring to the leaders' trip to the museum and their meeting with Ogura, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui said that he felt "our wish has been granted."

Yuna Okajima, an 18-year-old local resident who established a petition with a friend urging the G-7 to engage "earnestly" with the city's nuclear history, said the grim expressions from leaders including Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni as they left the museum suggested it had been "several times more effective" than Obama's brief tour.

"But time isn't everything, and I hope we will see change. I want to keep my focus on whatever small moves there might be toward concrete change," the university student and campaigner added.

Opponents of the Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima march in the western Japan city on May 19, 2023, the first day of the three-day event. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

And while the visit was received positively for its symbolism, not all hailed the summit.

Multiple demonstrations have been held against the summit, including a protest last Sunday attended by 200 people. Amid widespread security measures on the day of the visit, one of the protests' organizers, 63-year-old Naruaki Kuno, is calling on people to show their opposition wherever during the visit.

He said Kishida's choice of Hiroshima as the venue while he continues to back the U.S. nuclear deterrence policy showed that he was going ahead with the event "despite having no intention of realizing a world without nuclear weapons" and that as long as the leaders of Britain, France and the United States possess nuclear weapons, they "should not enter Hiroshima."


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