HIROSHIMA, Japan » The Dalai Lama and other Nobel Peace laureates from the last four decades gathered Friday at a hotel a few miles from ground zero of the world’s first atomic bomb attack to support the end of nuclear weapons.
The award winners also were focused on the plight of those who couldn’t attend the annual World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates — including this year’s winner, jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, and Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s detained pro-democracy activist who won in 1991.
"Now here, Liu Xiaobao, you see, failed to come here. It is very sad," the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader who won in 1989, told The Associated Press.
Wu’er Kaixi, a prominent student leader from the 1989 pro-democracy protests in China’s Tiananmen Square, addressed the meeting in Liu’s stead.
"I look forward to the day when my country is a land with freedom of expression," Wu’er said, reading from Liu’s last speech before he was jailed.
The annual meeting brings past award recipients together to call attention to their achievements and work, as well as push the prize’s overall message of human rights and nonviolence.
At the opening ceremony Friday morning, laureates were given necklaces made of paper cranes — a symbol of peace in Japan — by local schoolchildren. They also heard the story of a "hibakusha" or survivor of the Aug. 6, 1945 attack, who described his journey home through the carnage on that day.
"I hate atomic bombs, but I know we cannot erase hatred by hating others. Hatred has to be overcome," said Akihiro Takahashi, who was a boy in Hiroshima when the Americans dropped the bomb.
The three-day meeting is being held outside of Europe for the first time to draw attention to the devastating power of nuclear weapons. At a park in the middle of the city, an eternal flame burns in remembrance for its 140,000 victims, and the blasted-out hulk of a building near the detonation site is preserved in memorial.
"Hiroshima makes you aware of the reality of the destruction by nuclear weapons," Gov. Hidehiko Yuzaki said.
The attacks in the closing days of World War II remain controversial. Many in America believe they saved countless lives by forcing Japan to surrender, while others say they were an unjustified use of force on civilians.
"These atomic bombs were used on the Japanese people to terrorize the rest of the world," said Mairead Corrigan Maguire, who won her peace prize in 1976 for her work to end sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
Two award winners from the countries with the biggest nuclear arsenals were not in attendance.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union and a recipient in 1990 for his part in ending the Cold War, had to pull out at the last minute due to health reasons.
President Barack Obama, who will be in Japan for an economic summit, declined to attend, although he praised the meeting’s efforts. Obama received an award last year, in part for his efforts on nuclear disarmament.
Other laureates in attendance include former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk, Egyptian Mohamed ElBaradei, 2005 winner for his efforts to divert nuclear resources from being used in weapons, and Jody Williams, who won in 1997 for her work to ban landmines.