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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to make first Pearl Harbor visit by Japan leader

Posted by AFP on Monday, December 5, 2016 Under: Asia
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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is to become the first Japanese leader to visit Pearl Harbor, announcing Monday a trip to Hawaii this month for talks with US President Barack Obama.

Abe, who will be in Hawaii on December 26 and 27, will visit the site of the surprise Japanese attack on December 7, 1941, that began World War II in the Pacific.

The Hawaii visit comes after Obama in May journeyed to Hiroshima, the Japanese city where a US plane dropped the world's first atom bomb in the closing chapter of the war. Nagasaki was bombed several days later.

In Hiroshima 140,000 people died in the immediate blast on August 6, 1945, or later from radiation exposure. The Nagasaki bomb, dropped on August 9, killed more than 70,000 people.

Obama gave a soaring speech in Hiroshima that, while it offered no apology, was generally well received in Japan as it focused on the suffering of the atomic bomb victims.

"We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in the not-so-distant past," Obama said in his speech at a cenotaph in the now thriving city, as a handful of surviving victims looked on. "We come to mourn the dead."

Obama had insisted before the trip that he would not revisit decisions made by then-president Harry Truman at the close of the brutal war, thus quashing any possibility of an apology.

But as a flame flickered behind him, he said leaders had an obligation to "pursue a world without" nuclear weapons.

- 'Reconciliation' -

Abe on Monday hailed Obama's May speech.

His "message towards a nuclear-free world during his visit to Hiroshima remains etched into Japanese hearts," Abe said.

"I'd like to make it (meeting with Obama) an opportunity to send a message to the world that we will further strengthen and maintain our alliance towards the future," he said.

"And at the same time, I want to make it an opportunity to signal the value of Japan-US reconciliation."

Obama's trip had sparked speculation that Abe could visit Pearl Harbor in response, though the government previously denied that was under consideration.

Abe's wife Akie visited Pearl Harbor in August and said on Facebook that she offered flowers and prayers at the USS Arizona Memorial.

On the day of the attack 75 years ago, Japanese planes swept low over the US naval base, killing more than 2,400 American troops and civilians, a date which then-president Franklin Roosevelt declared would live in "infamy".

The two-hour bombardment of the US Pacific Fleet at anchor sank or damaged some 20 ships and destroyed 164 planes.

Abe's planned visit to Pearl Harbor was the top item on public broadcaster NHK's evening news bulletin, with social media in Japan reacting positively to the premier's announcement.

"I think it's a good thing," said @CNBLUE_6569 on Twitter. "After seeing President Obama's visit to Hiroshima, I felt strongly that I wanted a Japanese prime minister to visit" Pearl Harbor.

"President Obama came to Hiroshima so Prime Minister Abe should go to Pearl Harbor," Twitter user @chikazoemakoto said. "I think Abe made a really good decision."

In : Asia 



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