SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Jan 7 (AFP) – Egypt prepared Wednesday to host hundreds of family members heading here for memorials on shore and at sea for the French and other tourists who died in a plane crash here.
Egyptian workers put up tents on a desert hill overlooking the Red Sea, where 133 French, a Moroccan, a Japanese and 13 Egyptian crew died when the Paris-bound Egyptian charter plane plunged into the deep waters on Saturday.
The first ceremony will be “one of meditation and prayer. It will help the victims’ families mark their grief on a site set up by the Egyptian authorities,” said France’s ambassador to Egypt, Jean-Claude Cousseran.
He said the ceremony would be for “all the victims’ relatives,” though it could not be confirmed whether the families of the Egyptian crew and two non-French nationals would be here.
A French Navy ship, the Somme, will later take the families for another ceremony at the point at sea where investigators believe the plane crashed. Cousseran said they would lay a wreath at the site.
He said the ceremonies would have a “religious character” but one which reflected the fact that the dead included people of various religions.
Workers were putting the finishing touches to the hilltop site, including bringing clods of grass to form a small green space that will become permament.
On the approach to the hill, they were also erecting a black-framed white marble stela, engraved with brief details of the tragedy that left no survivors.
It will be flanked by four panels bearing the names of the 148 victims.
The families will arrive from France with psychologists to help them cope with their grief, organizers said.
“I want to meet people who were with them during their last moments,” Francois Ozerai, a man in his 20s who lost several family members in the accident, said on French television before leaving France for Egypt.
Tour guide Rami Safwat said Saturday how his charge of tourists had been most happy with a tour to the Colored Canyon in the Sinai desert, known for its red, orange and purple hues. They also enjoyed swimming and snorkelling.
He said most were in their 40s and 50s, though there around five children younger than 10 years old.
The group visited Saint Catherine’s monastery in the neighboring Sinai desert on Monday, where they saw President Hosni Mubarak making a brief visit and greeted him with “Salut,” French for “hi,” Safwat said.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin will represent his government at the ceremonies. He will also meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during his visit here, officials said.
Egyptian and French organizers are insisting the ceremonies be kept dignified, limiting the number of journalists who can attend them by asking them to “pool” or share the information with those denied access.
Egyptian first lady Suzanne Mubarak presided over a memorial ceremony off the coast here Monday laying a wreath in memory of the victims.
Sixty-five families totalling up to 300 people were due here, French Junior Foreign Minister Renaud Muselier announced Sunday after visiting Sharm el-Sheikh, where he expressed his distress at seeing human remains at a makeshift mortuary.
No complete bodies have been reported found.
More than 2,000 people packed into the historic Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris on Sunday for a mass for the victims of the crash, the worst air disaster ever to have hit France in terms of the number of French nationals killed.
Egyptian investigators have ruled out terrorism as a cause and have instead suspected it may have been caused by some unspecified technical failure in the Flash Airlines plane moments after take-off from Sharm el-Sheikh airport.
French search teams said they have approximately located the black box flight recorders, which could contain clues as to the cause of the crash, but need a more powerful submarine robot to retrieve it.
Subject: France news