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Japan marks 70th anniversary of Tokyo firebombing, Abe pledges peace ahead of key war statement

TOKYO, March 10 (Xinhua) -- Japan on Tuesday marked the 70th anniversary of the U.S. firebombing of Tokyo during World War II in which a frenzied night raid saw 100,000 lives lost.

A memorial ceremony was held in an area of downtown Tokyo that was pulverized in the 1945 air raids that saw 300 U.S. B-29 bombers drop massive amounts of ordinance containing napalm on civilian areas largely comprising wooden houses, and setting more than one fifth, or 20 percent, of the capital ablaze in a raid that lasted less than three hours.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is preparing to deliver a war statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII and is being urged by factions in Japan and the wider international community not to dilute historical facts and adhere to the internationally- accepted and historically factual Murayama Statement which apologizes for Japan's wartime atrocities, pledged in the ceremony to "contribute as much as possible to achieve lasting peace," and to "humbly face up to the past, while remembering deeply the lessons learned from the tragic war."

According to the ceremony's organizers, it is the first time a Japanese prime minister in office has attended the event. At the mausoleum that contains the ashes of thousands of unnamed victims, the prime minister was joined by 600 others observing a day in history that saw more lives lost in Tokyo than in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, in which an estimated 80,000 people were killed.

Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe during the ceremony said that the municipal government would continue to "carry out its responsibility to pass on the present peace to the next generation as the city hosting the 2020 Olympics, which is a peaceful festive occasion."

The younger son of Emperor Akihito, Prince Akishino, along with his wife Princess Kiko, also attended the ceremony and offered incense at the mausoleum.

The day was named a "Day of Peace" by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and another ceremony at its premises in the afternoon was attended by, among others, Caroline Kennedy, U.S. Ambassador to Japan.

Following the March 10 bombings of Tokyo, and ahead of the final atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which are the first, and, to date, only nuclear attack on one country by another, the U.S. continued with an aerial campaign that saw 157,000 tons of bombs dropped on multiple Japanese cities across Japan, according to the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey. Sixty percent of the capital Tokyo was destroyed during this extended campaign.

Following the Aug. 6 atomic-bomb attack on Hiroshima which claimed the lives of 80,000 people and the bombing of Nagasaki three days later which killed 40,000 people, Japan finally surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945.

Abe's pledge Tuesday to contribute to peace and face up to Japan's wartime history squarely, comes a day after visiting German leader Angela Merkel suggested that Abe take a leaf out of Germany's history in how to deal with a tainted wartime history and truly make amends with those victimized at its hands and work hard toward being reaccepted by the international community.

Merkel on Tuesday also said that Japan needed to settle the outstanding issue of its forcible conscription and coercion of sex slaves (or comfort women as they are euphemistically known) who were forced to work in military brothels and service the Japanese Imperial Army during the war.

Regarding Abe's much-watched war anniversary statement, Shinichi Kitaoka, acting chief of an expert panel selected to advise Abe on crafting the statement, said Tuesday that the prime minister should acknowledge that Japan waged "a war of invasion" and that the statement should contain this wording.

A diluted or whitewashed version of the statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, would drag relations in the Asia Pacific region to possibly irrevocable lows and potential see Japan alienated by the international community.

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