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Hundreds Gather in Bali to Commemorate Bombing Victims - 2002-11-15

Hundreds of people gathered on the Indonesian resort island of Bali Friday for a special ceremony commemorating those lost in the deadly October 12 bombing.

Hindu priests chant and ring bells to drive out the evil spirits they believe have been inhabiting Bali's tourist district of Kuta. The priests' altar stands outside the remains of the Sari Club, one of the bars destroyed in the bomb blasts of October 12.

Hundreds of people have gathered at the site, most wearing white sarongs and headbands that are traditional in the Hindu religion that is predominant here. Among those attending are many family members of the victims, both Indonesians and foreigners.

In addition to driving evil spirits away, participants are offering prayers for the victims' spirits to reach heaven. Holy water has been gathered from villages across Bali, and the priests sprinkle it on those gathered for the event.

At another ceremony on a nearby beach, a handful of animals, pigs, ducks, chickens, goats and cows, have been taken on boats into the surf and drowned, a traditional Hindu sacrifice also meant to appease the spirits.

The "purification" ceremonies held Friday are the culmination of a week of smaller religious events, all intended to cleanse Bali after the horror of the bombing.

A local man named Wayan said the reasons behind the ceremony are simple. "We need this ceremony for good luck. For good luck, for security and long life," he said.

More than 180 people died when a car bomb was detonated on Legian street - a busy tourist street lined with restaurants and bars. Roughly half the dead were Australian tourists, enjoying a Saturday evening on the town.

Indonesian investigators say their prime suspect in the bombing said his aim was to kill Americans. Although a small number of American tourists were among the victims, it was primarily Australians who died.

Australian tourist Steven Webster said he is impressed and touched by the efforts of the Balinese to hold the ceremonies. But he thinks it will be a long time before Australia forgives the perpetrators. "It's very hard for us to forgive the lot of people who have done the damage - you know what I mean? But for the Indonesians - if that's their religion, that's what they want to do, that's fine," he said.

Some long-time residents of Bali say the ceremony marks a major step forward for the Balinese, a way of putting the tragedy of the bombing behind them.

Canadian Marie Claude Clement, who has lived on Bali for 10 years, said "I just want it be like it was, I want it to be peaceful. Everyone wants balance; the Balinese are very much into balance. Something horrific happened which had never happened to this island and they want to put it back into the way it was. Hopefully in the future we'll have peace and healing."

In addition to its religious dimension, the ceremony is intended to help attract tourists back to Bali. Roughly 90 percent of all Balinese depend on tourism for their livelihood. Since the bombing, hotel occupancy rates have fallen by roughly 70 percent.