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Victims Remembered on Tragic Anniversary
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Remembrance activities will take place around the Indian Ocean today to remember the more than 220,000 people killed in the December 26 tsunami, unleashed by one of the world's largest-ever earthquakes which struck off the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

In Indonesia's Aceh, the area most devastated by the walls of water, officials readied for the arrival of around 40 special envoys from governments around the world, including East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao.

Around 168,000 people were killed or remain missing in Indonesia.

At the flattened village of Lambung, near where Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will preside over a memorial ceremony today at 8:16 AM (01:16 GMT) the precise time the first waves smashed ashore survivors prepared to hold an overnight vigil.

Mass prayer

The Indonesian president will also attend a mass prayer meeting at Banda Aceh's main mosque this evening.

Bodies were piled there after being collected from the town's debris-strewn streets as survivors and rescuers struggled to comprehend the sheer scale of the disaster.

In Sri Lanka, President Mahinda Rajapakse is due to lead commemoration ceremonies with an address to the nation from the site where a train was engulfed by the tsunami, killing over 1,000 passengers.

The Sri Lankan Government has invited Buddhist monks, Hindu and Christian priests and Muslim clerics to perform respective religious services for the 31,000 people who were officially estimated to have perished in the tsunami.

In mainland India's worst-hit southern state of Tamil Nadu, candlelight vigils will be held today on beaches.

Island visit

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is slated to visit the Andaman and Nicobar Islands which bore the brunt of the killer waves in his country.

Hundreds of relatives of victims and survivors of the tsunami were arriving in Thailand before a series of memorial events planned there.

Some 2,436 foreigners from 37 countries were among the nearly 5,400 claimed by the tsunami in Thailand. Around 1,200 foreigners accepted free flights and accommodation from the government to attend today's events.

At Ban Muang in the country's worst hit province of Phang Nga hundreds gathered yesterday to make merit for victims in a Buddhist temple that once housed their bodies.

Some 30 saffron-robed monks led the 90-minute ceremony with chants and the explosion of firecrackers meant to cleanse the souls of those dead. Survivors carried pictures of their relatives.

Memorial unveiled

At Phuket's Kamala Beach, Japanese officials unveiled a black granite memorial to Thailand's tsunami dead.

Seven Buddhist monks in orange robes joined in prayers to inaugurate the monument, a polished slab with the inscription "Forever Peace" written in Japanese.

"I am deeply sorry for relatives who lost their loved ones. We should all remember the tragedy and pray for the dead," said Kiyohiko Toyama, Japan's parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs.

Elsewhere in Thailand search and rescue teams staged tsunami drills and construction workers put final touches to memorial preparations, cleaning up a newly-landscaped park along a beachfront and stringing Christmas lights on freshly planted palm trees.

Simultaneous services

Morning services are to be held simultaneously today at seven locations across the worst-hit beaches, including on Phuket and Phi Phi Island. A minute's silence will be observed at 10:10 AM (03:10 GMT), the moment the water hit here as the waves radiated for thousands of kilometers.

In the afternoon Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will lay a foundation stone for a tsunami memorial in Phang Nga province, where about 80 percent of Thailand's dead were located.

In the evening an interfaith memorial service will be held for Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, with children reading poems.

A second minute's silence is to be observed and those attending will be given white lotus-shaped candles. The ceremony will end with the release of 5,000 floating lanterns into the sky.

(China Daily December 26, 2005)


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