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Asia Marks Tsunami Anniversary Amid Tears, Prayers

Tearful mourners from around the world gathered Monday to light candles and offer prayers on the anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami, one of the deadliest natural disasters ever.

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The commemorations took place in front of a calm sea, but tsunami memories were strong

From Indonesia to Sweden, on beaches or in homes, at mosques and in churches, survivors and relatives remembered the more than 220,000 people killed when the waves slammed into a dozen countries one year ago.

The day's solemn commemorations began in Indonesia, where President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono led an emotional ceremony with a minute's silence to remember the 168,000 people killed in Aceh, which bore the brunt of the disaster.

"Let us now bow our heads in silence to pray for the souls of hundreds of thousands who lost their lives," he said, sounding a siren that forms part of an early warning system being set up to prevent a repeat of the tragedy.

Tsunami, Jahrestag, Erinnern an die Opfer, Beten, ACEH, Frauen

Acehnese women recite the Koran at a mass grave site for tsunami victims

In the evening, the president prayed with Acehnese mourners at Banda Aceh's main mosque and urged them to keep the peace that has come to the province in the wake of the tsunami, ending a nearly three-decade separatist conflict.

Pain felt across the world

The catastrophe brought grief into lives of people across the globe, killing locals and foreigners, the young and the old, with many of the victims simply washed away, leaving their desperate relatives hoping against all hope.

"I've announced their names and had their photographs printed in newspapers and shown on television but there is no news about them," Tuti Suyanti, 32, said of the two children and 10 other family members she lost.

"Somehow I still hold out hope that I will find them but I leave everything in the hands of God," she said.

In the Indonesian town of Padang, officials tested the warning system for the first time Monday, with emergency personnel helping to evacuate some 2,000 residents as part of the exercise to prevent another such tagedy.

Challenges ahead

"It was so brutal, so quick, so extensive that we are still struggling to fully comprehend it," UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said in a video message broadcast at the Aceh ceremony.

"A year on, there has been tremendous progress in many areas ...And yet in some ways, the most challenging days lie ahead," he said.

Tsunami, weinendes Waisenkind in Indien, Jahrestag, Gedenken an die Opfer

A girl from a government orphanage grieves in Nagapattinam, India

Some two million people across the region were left homeless by the disaster, and hundreds of thousands of them are still living in tents or temporary shelters.

A massive undersea earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra triggered the giant waves, which hit as far west as Africa, and pounded shorelines in Asia with ferocious speed and power.

Strong memories of tsunami

In southern Thailand, where some 5,400 Thais and foreign holiday-makers were killed, mourners signed books of remembrance or tossed flowers into the sea as they gathered along the battered beaches where their loved ones died.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra led his nation in mourning during a beachside ceremony, laying a foundation stone for a tsunami memorial.

"It is not often that we have the opportunity to be part of a historic moment that will be remembered for generations to come," he said.

Sri Lanka's president attended a ceremony that paid tribute to an estimated 31,000 people who perished along the country's coastline.

President Mahinda Rajapakse stood with his head bowed after an inter-faith service and observed two minutes of silence in the village of Peraliya, where over 1,000 people perished when their train was hit by giant waves.

In India, where more than 10,700 people were killed and 5,600 others are listed as missing, survivors offered tearful tributes.

The worst-hit district in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, where almost 6,000 people died, observed a minute's silence at themoment the waves slammed into the shore.

In Nagapattinam town, 99 children orphaned by the tsunami returned for the first time to the scene of the tragedy, most of them in tears.

On the palm-fringed island of Car Nicobar, India's military unveiled a memorial while women thronged Nicobar's ravaged beaches to pray to their gods for the sea to remain calm. Priests called on villagers to gather at the still-standing churches in remembrance of those who died.

In Malaysia, hundreds traveled to beaches of the resort island of Penang to pray for the victims. Relatives and friends of the 68 people killed by the tsunami here lit candles and scattered flowers into the sea.

Sweden mourns

Tsunami

A man mourns a lost loved one on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand,

Sweden, which suffered more deaths in the Indian Ocean tsunami than any nation outside Asia, was preparing to remember its 543 nationals killed with memorials scheduled in Stockholm and two other Swedish cities.

Hundreds of Swedes also took part in an emotional beachside ceremony in the Thai resort of Khao Lak which included flowers, incense and music.

US President George W. Bush sent a message of support broadcast in Banda Aceh: "May Almighty God comfort all those affected by the tsunami and give them strength in the years ahead."

In London, Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the world was now better prepared to understand and respond to large-scale disasters, while Irish Prime Minister promised from Dublin to keep helping tsunami victims.

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