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WWII STAMP SETS OFF FIRESTORM OF OUTRAGE

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Japanese officials and survivors of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are outraged at a proposed U.S. postage stamp showing a nuclear explosion in the shape of a mushroom cloud due to go on sale next year.

An incensed Japanese media condemned the idea. In an editorial titled "The A-Bomb Stamp," a leading national newspaper, the Mainichi Shinbun, called the U.S. proposal "stupid and insensitive.""Where is America's conscience? What happened to its avowed devotion to human rights? The Americans built a Holocaust museum out of compassion for the Jews who perished in European concentration camps. But don't they feel any sympathy toward the Japanese victims of the nuclear bomb?" the newspaper asked.

The stamp, which is proposed to be issued next year around the time of the 50th anniversary of the World War II victory of the Allies, carries the nuclear cloud with the caption, "Atomic bombs hasten war's end, August 1945."

"This goes against Japan's national sentiments. We will convey our thoughts to the United States in an appropriate manner," said Prime Minister Tomiichi Mura-yama.

Postal Minister Shun Oide voiced similar sentiments and felt that Japan should counter the move by issuing a stamp of its own, titled "The use of nuclear devices violates international laws," if the U.S. Postal Service carries out its plan.

Oide was joined in his protests by the 162,000-member Japan Postal Workers' Union, which demanded that their U.S. counterparts shelve the plan.

The 300,000-strong Atomic Bomb Survivors Organization and other anti-nuclear groups have also sent a formal protest to President Clinton.

They not only criticized the U.S. attempt to "justify" the employment of nuclear devices but also sought an apology for the bombingss of Hiroshima and Naga-sa-ki.

The secretary-general of one nationwide anti-nuclear group of 3 million members said U.S. authorities must be persuaded not to issue the stamp, which could be interpreted as an act of "aggression toward both the Japanese and the rest of the world."

An estimated 140,000 of Hiroshima's 340,000 citizens died within five months after Aug. 6, 1945, when the U.S. bomber Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on the city. Another bomb dropped over Nagasaki killed 70,000 of the city's 270,000 citizens. Japan surrendered Aug. 15, 1945.

The Japanese ambassador to the United States, Takakazu Kuriyama, asked the State Department last week to "take proper measures" against the proposal, citing the strong sentiments prevalent in Japan over the 1945 bombings.

Meanwhile, in response to the protests, the U.S. Postal Service apparently is having second thoughts about the proposed stamp.

State Department spokeswoman Christine Shelly said that the matter was being reviewed but that no final decision had been taken. Other officials were quoted as saying that the stamp is unlikely to go on sale due to the worldwide furore over the issue.