March 11, 2013 - 09:52 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Services are being held in Japan to mark the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck two years ago, BBC News reports.
Ceremonies were taking place in the three worst-hit prefectures and a minute's silence was to be observed at 14:46 (05:46 GMT), when the quake hit.
More than 18,000 people were left dead or missing in the disaster, which also caused the Fukushima nuclear crisis. Since then, most of Japan's nuclear reactors have remained off, amid impassioned debate over nuclear energy.
On Sunday, thousands of people marched in Tokyo urging an end to the use of nuclear power. Japan's 50 nuclear reactors were shut down for checks after the earthquake and only two have since been turned on again.
But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was elected in December, has indicated he wants to restart the reactors after safety checks to meet pressing power needs.
About 160,000 people had to be evacuated from the area around the nuclear plant, where meltdowns occurred at three reactors after tsunami waters knocked out cooling systems. It remains unclear if they will ever be able to return.
Tens of thousands of people also remain displaced further north, after entire communities were washed away or felled. The government has channeled billions of dollars into reconstruction, but has been criticized for slow progress.
In a video message posted on YouTube on Monday, Abe pledged to accelerate reconstruction work.
"Unless spring comes to the Tohoku region, a real spring won't come to Japan," he said, referring to the devastated northern area.
According to an official tally, 15,881 people died in the disaster and 2,668 others remain unaccounted for.