Flowers And Tears Mark Chernobyl Anniversary

CHERNOBYL, Ukraine (Reuters) - Mourners laid red carnations — symbols of grief — in the shadow of the ruined Chernobyl power station on Wednesday as they marked the 20th anniversary of the world's worst civil nuclear accident.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko (R) takes part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the monument for those who died from the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster near the Chernobyl nuclear plant April 26, 2006. Mourners marked the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster on Wednesday, honouring those who died as leaders pledged to ensure it would never happen again.

Hundreds filed past a memorial wall engraved with the names of the local fire crew. They were among the first to perish when Chernobyl's reactor No. 4 blew up on April 26, 1986, spewing radioactive dust across Europe.

One old woman in a headscarf made the sign of the cross as she stooped to lay a single carnation at the foot of the wall.

Ukraine's President Victor Yushchenko said it was time to start healing the scars left by the disaster.

"After 20 years of pain and fear, this land must feel progress," he told mourners in Chernobyl — epicentre of a still-contaminated 30-km (19-mile) "exclusion zone" that straddles parts of Ukraine and neighbouring Belarus.

"The trance we were left in by Chernobyl is over. We are a strong and brave people and we are looking to the future."

His ex-Soviet state has been left to deal with a legacy of contamination, ill health among its people and a reactor that, though entombed in a concrete "sarcophagus," will remain radioactive for centuries.

Nuclear power, out of favor for years after the accident, is now making a comeback as governments like the United States and China seek cleaner and cheaper alternatives to oil and gas.

But environmental groups have warned the lessons of Chernobyl should not be forgotten.

The Soviet authorities sent in firefighters and conscripts to extinguish the fire and clean up radioactive material, some equipped only with shovels.

Officials waited two days before telling their own people, and the world, about what had happened.

The World Health Organization puts at 9,000 the number of people expected to die of radiation exposure from Chernobyl, while environmental group Greenpeace predicts an eventual death toll of 93,000.

LINGERING LEGACY

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the international community to honor the victims by continuing to provide aid to affected communities.

"Many hard lessons have been learned from Chernobyl, including the importance of providing the public with transparent, timely and credible information in the event of a catastrophe," U.N. chief spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Services of remembrance began in the small hours of Wednesday, when hundreds of people filed slowly through the streets of Slavutych, the town built to house the Chernobyl plant's workers displaced by the accident.

Each bearing a candle, they fell silent at 1:23 a.m. Moscow time (2123 GMT Tuesday) — about the time of the explosion.

Later in Ukraine's capital Kiev, Lyudmila Snizhok dabbed her eyes with a tissue as she remembered her husband Leonid, a paramedic at Chernobyl.

"He died three years ago … from the effects of radiation," she said. "He left three children"

President Bush, in a statement, honoured the "lives lost and communities hurt in the devastation."

Pope Benedict said he prayed for the Chernobyl victims and urged world leaders to see to it that, in future, nuclear energy was environmentally safe.

In Belarus, opponents of Belarus's President Alexander Lukashenko— described by Washington as a dictator — were to hold a demonstration to mark the anniversary. The opposition said police might try to break up the rally.

Source: Reuters

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