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Thais, Foreigners Mourn As Asia Marks Tsunami Anniversary

Thousands gathered Monday on beaches across southern Thailand devastated by last year's Indian Ocean tsunami as Thais and foreigners alike marked the first anniversary of the catastrophe.

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Some 5,400 Thais and tourists died when the tusnami struck last year

In Bang Nieng, hundreds lined up to sign remembrance books in the shadow of a police patrol boat that was washed one kilometer (half a mile) inland by the killer waves and now stands as a memorial to the catastrophe.

Many of the messages were brief, with one reading, "We miss you every day," while another simply asked "Why?!"

Swedish couple Mari Olsson and Michael Sanden were among the crowd who were laying flowers and photos of the dead at an altar. The pair had come back to Thailand with their two surviving daughters to remember a third who was killed when the entire family was caught up in the catastrophe.

"We didn't want to be home at Christmas, we didn't want to celebrate (Christmas Eve)," Olsson said.

Much more to be done

The tsunami "touched the lives of countless people here and abroad", Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Somkid Jatusripitak told the gathering.

"One year has passed, we continue the rebuilding process. Much progress has been made but we have more to do still."

Gedenken an Tsunamiopfer

Thailand's idyllic beaches turned into killing fields last year

In nearby Khao Lak a small number of French mourners met in what used to be the lobby of the gutted Sofitel Magic Lagoon Resort for a low-key ceremony, gathered around an altar looking out across a now-empty pool to the sea.

Other ceremonies, many organized by foreigners, took place on beaches where some 5,400 Thais and tourists died when the tsunami struck on Dec 26 last year.

On Phuket's Patong beach, Australian Ingrid Hastie threw flowers into the sea in memory of her mother, who drowned in her hotel room, and declared she would never return to the Thai holiday island.

Hastie was one of several dozen Australians commemorating their 23 compatriots who died in the waves. The mourners threw red roses and purple Thai orchids into the sea, embracing each other as the waves carried the petals back to the shore near wreaths laid beneath an Australian national flag erected in the sand.

"This was the hurdle, I think we're over it," Hastie said.

Remembering loved ones

Also on Phuket, a memorial was held earlier in Mia Khao, where in the days following the tsunami desperate survivors posted photos and names of their missing loved ones.

Four small shells painted with the names of victims were attached on a long wall adorned with teddy bears and other children's toys commemorating the victims from more than 25 countries.

"My deepest sympathies to all tsunami victims. My deepest gratitude to the Thai people for saving my children," wrote a person who signed his name Paulo in one of the two condolence books.

Verzweiflung

A Thai man offers prayers on the first anniversary of the tragedy

On Phi Phi island, some 1,500 people gathered to lay orchids and garlands of white flowers at a tsunami altar, including Thai diving instructor Apichart Mukda, who broke his leg in the disaster.

"The tsunami is my worst memory," he said, speaking from a wheelchair.

In the afternoon, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was to lay a foundation stone for a tsunami memorial in Khao Lak, one of the regions hardest hit by the catastrophe.

At dusk, the premier will preside over an inter-faith service, where Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh prayers will be read.

Tsunami-Gedenken

Prayers at the Bang Niang beach in southern Thailand

Later in the evening two young survivors of the tsunami, 11-year-old Briton Tilly Smith and 10-year-old Thai Patiwat Komkla, will read poems before mourners light hundreds of floating lanterns in Khao Lak.

Commemorations across Asia

From Indonesia to Sri Lanka, on beaches, at mosques and in churches, survivors and relatives are honoring the more than 220,000 people killed when the waves slammed into a dozen countries exactly one year ago.

In Indonesia, 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.

In the Indonesian town of Padang, officials tested the warning
system for the first time Monday, with emergency personnel
evacuating residents amid efforts to prevent a similar tragedy from ever happening again.

"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.

Sri Lanka's president led his nation in paying tribute to an estimated 31,000 people who perished along its coastline.

Candlelight vigils were planned for after sunset along the island's coastlines that were battered by the destructive waves.

Tsunami Kinder

Two mothers exchange a word in Nagapattinam, India

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 the moment the waves slammed into the shore.

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