Europe holds silent tribute to tsunami victims

Three Minute Silence Is Held For Victims Of Indian Ocean Tsunami
Visitors at Parliament Square in London observe a three-minute silence in remembrance of the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami on Wednesday.Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

From stock exchanges to shopping centers, people across much of Europe paused for three minutes of silent reflection Wednesday in memory of the victims of the Asian tsunami disaster.

Flags were lowered to half mast, television broadcasts were interrupted and church bells rang. At Italian resorts, skiers joined the tribute.

"Because everyone has to bear this heavy burden of sorrow ... I, too, in my small way, wanted to observe the silence," said taxi driver Eila Tammilehto, his head bowed next to his car at Helsinki's rail station.

As the board flashed noon at the Frankfurt stock exchange, traders turned their backs to their screens, some with eyes closed.

The regularly buzzing trading floor fell quiet, with only the ringing of unanswered phones and the hum of tickers audible.

Outside European Union headquarters in Brussels, hundreds of EU officials stood side by side. In Paris, a somber President Jacques Chirac observed the tribute with government officials and some 600 civil servants there to give their New Year's greetings.

Buses, trams and subway cars temporarily stopped service in several cities. TV and radio stations interrupted normal programs with special commemoration broadcasts, and shoppers at the January sales were asked to reflect silently on the disaster, which has claimed nearly 150,000 lives.

‘We have lost so many’
Sweden is set to be the Western country hardest hit by the tsunami, with 52 confirmed killed and another 1,903 missing.

"We have lost so many -- a father, a mother, granddad ... " said Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson, speaking of the suffering of all his countrymen. "There are so many names that will be shouted today. It is so empty where someone is missing."

At the Vatican, Pope John Paul II marked the day of mourning by appealing for people to extend their prayers to tsunami victims.

"Once more, I ask all to join my prayers for the many dead and for the populations in grave difficulties," he said during his weekly audience.

In Rome, hundreds gathered outside the town hall, many with tears in their eyes.

"It's right to participate in this commemoration because it is a tragedy that involves everyone," said 50-year-old city council employee Barbara Battani.

At the Spanish Steps in the center of the city, around a third of the hundreds of tourists and shoppers stood still.

TV music network MTV Europe halted its programming to show a black screen, while cable sports network Eurosport, covering the world luge cup in Germany, cut to a crowd standing in silence.

On the German-Swiss border, guards on both sides fell silent and traffic was halted.

In many places, people continued with business as usual, unaware of the tribute.

"I didn't know about it, but it's a good idea to honor their memory and show we're thinking about them," said Antony Le Cerf, 19, a design student, one of many people taking cover in heavy Parisian drizzle on the Champs-Elysees.

Britain's Independent newspaper ran a white front page, blank save for the words: "To remember the tsunami victims ... silence."