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Candle-lit vigils as region mourns at New Year
The Dhamma Times, 1 January 2005


With more than 125,000 dead, hundreds of thousands injured and millions made homeless by the devastating earthquake and tsunami wave, the passage of 2004 was to be marked by candle-lit vigils and calls for prayer; a somber mood of mourning, and the struggle for survival; people looking back to the events of the past few days, not forward to 2005.

Phuket, Thailand - Grieving friends, family and survivors of the Asian tsunami disaster gathered on New Year's Eve on Friday, pausing for a few hours to reflect on the tragic end to a sometimes brutal year.

In the holiday resorts that in a few seconds of Sunday morning became churning killing grounds, authorities urged people to tone down any planned celebrations, hotel owners in Sri Lanka and in Thailand told AFP, and most people agreed.

"We are having a gathering of the staff and all our guests are invited to light candles with them at midnight for the people who have died," said Thanarat Jadpatananon, who owns the Sawasdee hotel on Patong beach, Phuket, a place where hundreds died.

"We are giving everyone free food and drinks but there will no alcohol. This is definitely not a party or time to celebrate," she said. Fireworks displays normally held across the island had all been cancelled.

Some resorts said the government had urged them to cancel celebrations.

"In Thailand, the government office announced that there shouldn't be any party or festival," said a front office assistant at the Phuket Merlin Hotel. "Lots of people died. We cannot celebrate."

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra also asked government agencies not to hold New Year celebrations and traditional countdowns in Bangkok and the northern city of Chiang Mai were cancelled, replaced by Buddhist merit-making ceremonies for the dead on New Year morning.

In the once-idyllic resort island of Phi Phi, where hundreds died, a candlelight vigil and Buddhist ceremony will be held.

In Sri Lanka, a country where more than 28,000 have died and thousands more are still missing, deluxe hotels scrapped champagne dinners and canned plans for other events to mark the New Year as the government announced an official day of mourning.

The five-star Taj Samudra said it had cancelled its Roman-themed New Year's Eve bash and called off all other celebrations in the hotel overlooking the Indian Ocean, general manager Praveen Nair said.

"There will be no music in the hotel," Nair said.

Local radio and television networks played somber music on Friday while lottery companies announced suspending sales till next year.

In India's capital New Delhi, clubs and the elite hotels also cancelled their planned festivities. More than 11,000 are dead in India and nearly a million people badly affected.

New Delhi's presidential palace set the example by deciding not to illuminate the historic building for the first time in years.

However, the financial and entertainment capital of Bombay on India's western coast plans to go ahead with the festivities in a string of plush hotels and restaurants.

But in Indonesia, the country where the largest number of victims died, with nearly 80,000 dead, the authorities in the capital Jakarta scrapped a lavish New Year's Eve fireworks display.

Jakarta governor Sutiyoso said the money that would have been spent on the fireworks, a regular year-end fixture held at Indonesia's Monas national monument in the city centre, would go to help the victims.

Outside the immediately affected region, authorities were split between ordering a toning down of the celebrations for New Year and allowing them to go ahead but asking for contributions to be made to the Asian disaster appeal.

In Australia, the traditional fireworks display in Sydney harbour, always one of the first to celebrate in the world, was also to go ahead.

But it was to be turned into a fundraiser for the victims of the disaster and artistic director Leo Schofield announced there would be a minute's silence before the first of two displays.

In Tokyo, the Japanese were planning for celebrations as normal in what is traditionally a major holiday and in Taiwan, authorities were to stage a countdown party at the country's tallest building, the Taipei 101 tower.

But in both countries contributions were being made to the Asian appeal.

In Singapore, an annual broadcast of the countdown to New Year was cancelled, but a planned party was set to go ahead.

Malaysia scrapped planned public events and withdrew licences for fireworks displays.

In a country where New Year celebrations are not a tradition, Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered the country's national flag to be flown at half-mast for three days starting January 1 in a mark of respect for the dead.

In London, over 150,000 people are expected to line the banks of the River Thames for a massive fireworks display aimed at promoting the city's bid to host the 2012 Olympics, despite calls for the show to be called off.

Up to 400,000 people are also expected to hit the streets of London from midday on Saturday and enjoy the carnival atmosphere of a parade featuring 10,000 clowns, dancers, and other entertainers.

Organisers have said profits from the event would go towards the Asia disaster victims.


AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE VIA CHANNEL NEWSASIA


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