TOKYO – Japan's prime minister reprimanded a member of his Cabinet for saying the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were an inevitable way of ending World War II, and asked him Monday to refrain from making similar remarks.
Speaking to reporters, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he told Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma to "strictly refrain from making remarks that cause misunderstanding."
"Japan is the only country that suffered atomic bombings. We need to always consider and stand in the position of the survivors," Abe said he reminded Kyuma, who is from Nagasaki.
Kyuma's comments offended survivors of the bombings who believe the use of atomic weapons was excessive, but the minister is not expected to resign.
"I want Minister Kyuma to seriously consider the gravity of his remarks and, having reflected on them, work toward nuclear disarmament," Abe said.
The United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki near the end of World War II, in the world's only nuclear attacks.
"I understand that the bombings ended the war, and I think that it couldn't be helped," Kyuma said in a speech Saturday at a university in Chiba, just east of Tokyo.
Kyuma said the U.S. atomic bombings did cause great suffering in the city, but otherwise Japan would have kept fighting and ended up losing larger part of northern territory to the Soviet Union, which began invading Manchuria on the day of atomic bombing on Nagasaki.
The remarks, rare for a Japanese Cabinet minister, were quickly criticized by atomic bomb victims and opposition leaders.
"Minister Kyuma retracted his comments but it's meaningless. We demand his resignation and dismissal by Prime Minister Abe," Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima told a news conference.
Naoto Kan, a leader of main opposition Democratic Party, said his party will join Fukushima's and seek Kyuma's dismissal.
Five survivor groups in Nagasaki sent a letter of protest to the Defense Ministry, saying they will not allow Kyuma to attend this year's memorial on Aug. 9, which he attends every year.
About 90 people staged a sit-in protest at Nagasaki Peace Park Monday, according to organizers. Separately, about 160 people protested in Hiroshima, Kyodo said.
Kyuma's comments just weeks before the July 29 upper house elections also angered the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's coalition partner, the New Komeito.
Party executive Yoshio Urushibara said, "We urge him not to say anything if he has to apologize for it later."
On Aug. 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped a bomb nicknamed "Little Boy" on Hiroshima, killing at least 140,000 people in the world's first atomic bomb attack. Three days later it dropped another atomic bomb, "Fat Man," on Nagasaki where about 74,000 are estimated to have been killed.
Japan, which attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor in 1941, surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945.