Survivors of the world's first atomic bombing had hoped the prime minister would promise new compensation on the 49th anniversary of the blast Saturday. They were disappointed.
Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama's Socialist Party supported increased benefits during its decades as an opposition party, raising survivors' hopes that the first Socialist prime minister in 46 years would deliver this year."We in the government accept the reality that the victims are still suffering," Murayama said at an annual memorial service in Hiroshima, the site of the blast.
But he did not promise aid.
"I was very disappointed with what the prime minister said," said survivor Keizaburo Toyonaga, 58. "He was so vague about providing us with compensation or relief."
The government partially pays for special medical examinations and treatment for Japan's 334,000 atomic bomb survivors, whose average age is 65. About $2 billion in such aid was distributed to them last year.
Critics say it would be unfair to increase benefits to atomic bomb survivors but not to other World War II victims.
Many atomic bomb survivors linger with radiation-related illnesses. Cancers and cancer deaths, for example, occur with significantly higher frequency than in the general population.
About 140,000 of Hiroshima's 340,000 people died within five months after the United States dropped the bomb in a bid to bring World War II to a close. Japan surrendered eight days later, after the Americans dropped a second bomb Aug. 9 on Nagasaki. About 70,000 of that city's 270,000 people were killed.
Hiroshima mayor Takashi Hiraoka, speaking at Saturday's ceremony, urged an international ban on nuclear weapons, which he called "patently illegal under international law" and a "crime against humanity."
He said the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is up for renewal, should aim to ban nuclear weapons instead of allowing nuclear states such as the United States and Russia to keep them indefinitely.
Murayama singled out North Korea twice in his speech, saying its shadowy nuclear program was an example of the need for the international community to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
The United States and North Korea on Friday restarted talks in Geneva on getting the communist state to open its nuclear program - suspected of being used to produce weapons - to international inspection.
Police estimated 100,000 people were in Hiroshima for Saturday's ceremony.