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Thousands of Thais, Foreigners Mark One-Year Anniversary of Indian Ocean Tsunami

In Thailand, thousands of Thais and foreigners laid flowers and observed a minute of silence to commemorate the 5,000 people who died in the tsunami one year ago.

On a half-dozen beaches along Thailand's Indian Ocean coast, thousands of people Monday remembered loved ones who died in the wall of water that swept through their communities on the morning after Christmas last year.

The chairman of the memorial program, Deputy Prime Minister Suwat Liptapanlop, called it one of the worst natural catastrophes in the history of mankind. "Today, one full year has passed and we all are here together at this particular place to share our sentiment of love and sympathy to one another and to remember those who are no longer with us," he said.

He said for the people here, this was not just another page of history, but rather a time distilled in their memories because of the many who lost loved ones for ever.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra expressed his sorrow to the foreign families who lost relatives in Thailand. He says it was a disaster that was not expected and the government is deeply sorry. But he said Thailand gave the best help it could give.

The Thai government is hosting several thousand relatives of foreign tourists who died in the disaster as special guests for the anniversary. A museum and several memorials are being erected to remember those who perished.

More than 5,000 people were killed by the tsunami, half of them foreign tourists. The series of waves devastated the tourism and fishing industries here and made tens of thousands of people homeless.

The government has spent millions of dollars building shelters and new homes for the displaced and millions more trying to woo back tourists, who are crucial for the economy.

Some areas, like the more developed Phuket Island, have recovered, but others like Nam Khem, in neighboring Pang Na Province and Phi Phi Island, are still suffering from high unemployment and depressed economies.

Most schools have re-opened and efforts are underway to revitalize the fishing and service industries. But relief workers say many residents are still traumatized by the disaster and as a result it will take years for the region to fully recover.