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Europe

Italy observes national day of mourning for quake victims

Italy came to a standstill Friday, as the victims of Monday's deadly earthquake were remembered across the country during a national day of mourning and at a mass state funeral.

A woman kneels before a small white casket

Child-sized coffins were painted white

An estimated 10,000 mourners turned out to the funeral, which was held at a police academy in the mountain city of L'Aquila, worst hit by the 6.3 magnitude quake.

In a message read at the start of the funeral for 205 of the victims, Pope Benedict XVI urged survivors of the “immense tragedy” to have courage and keep up hope.

"I implore God to grant eternal rest to the victims, a swift recovery to the injured and for all, the courage to continue hoping without succumbing to despair," the Pontiff's message said, read by his personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein.

Coffin covered in flowers with a large crowd in the background

Mourners covered the coffins with flowers and photos

The ceremony was held on Good Friday -- the holiest day of the Christian calendar, which marks the death of Jesus Christ. A special dispensation to hold the mass was granted by the Vatican, as it is the only day on the Roman Catholic calendar on which mass is not normally celebrated.

President Giorgio Napolitano, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, other top Italian officials and leading Roman Catholic prelates all attended the event.

Survivors' anger

"There is a lot of sadness today, but also a lot of anger," local Piero Faro told the Reuters news agency. He came to pay his respects to a family friend.

"Their building simply disintegrated. This should not have happened," he said.

In the wake of the earthquake, there has been public anger over alleged delays in the rescue effort and apparent poor quality construction which has been blamed for increasing the death toll. Prosecutors have opened an inquiry into building standards.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano holds his hand to his face in shock

Napolitano met with quake survivors

On a tour of the disaster zone on Thursday, President Napolitano blamed "widespread irresponsibility" for the collapse of many modern buildings in what is an earthquake-prone region.

Coming to grips with the aftermath

Some families of the 289 people reported dead have already buried their loved ones privately, choosing not to take part in the state funeral.

Tens of thousands of people who were forced to flee their homes are still living in tent camps or in their cars.

Strong aftershocks have also rocked the area around L'Aquila, hampering the rescue effort.

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