Love Parade victims mourned in Germany

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Thousands of mourners paid their respects Saturday in Duisburg to 21 people who died at a techno festival a week before, with many saying the city will take a very long time to heal.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Christian Wulff were among several hundred at a church service beamed onto big screens in and around Duisburg's football stadium and shown live on television.

"I was there, working as a helper and saw it all happen. A friend of mine was hurt," Markus Spanke, aged around 20, told AFP in the stadium. "I will never forget it."

A large black cross several metres (feet) high was set up on the pitch with 21 candles, one for each of the dead. Many of those present wore black and had tears in their eyes.

Before the service church bells rang mournfully out across the western industrial city of half a million people, where flags were at half-mast, as they were across the whole of a shocked Germany.

"We were at the Love Parade, we saw everything from the bridge. We can't shake those images of panic from our heads," said Phil Napeirala, 21, from nearby Essen.

"This is bad for the image of Duisburg and for the whole of Germany."

Later on Saturday a march was due to take place from Duisburg train station towards the narrow tunnel that served as the only entrance to the festival grounds.

It was inside the packed tunnel -- the entrance to which is now a mass of candles, flowers and photos -- that the victims died as revellers desperately tried to escape.

The dead included seven foreigners, from Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, China, Bosnia and Spain who had come for one of Europe's top techno events. More than 500 people were hurt, 25 of whom are reportedly still in hospital.

One man absent from public view however was Adolf Sauerland, the mayor, who has come under intense pressure to resign amid accusations that he ignored warnings that the event was a disaster waiting to happen.

An interim police report on Wednesday also put the blame on Love Parade organisers, listing a catalogue of catastrophic mistakes in managing the crowd of hundreds of thousands. Prosecutors have opened an investigation.

Hannelore Kraft, premier of North Rhine-Westphalia state, told the memorial service that no stone would be left unturned.

"Every catastrophe shakes us and makes us ask why. But for this catastrophe this is particularly true ... How could this happen? Who is guilty, who is responsible? These questions must and will be answered," she said.

"It's going to take a long time before Duisburg can get back to normal," Reiner, one of the mourners at the football stadium, told AFP.

"Duisburg's image has been destroyed. Every time we pass this tunnel on the motorway we will think about it," said a tearful Sabine Beuscher, who had come with her husband to pay her respects.

© 2010 AFP

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