Under a blue Manhattan sky, tears for September 11

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New Yorkers paused yesterday to recall the horror that was in their midst two years earlier when two hijacked jetliners slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre sending them crashing to earth and killing 2,645 innocent souls stranded inside.

At ground zero, where the towers once stood, as many as 10,000 relatives of those who died gathered for a morning-long ceremony of remembrance led by the city's Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. Similar services of commemoration were held in towns and cities across America.

Under a sky that was as blue as the day of the tragedy, 200 children who lost relatives, filed in pairs to microphones in the pit at ground zero to read out the names of those who died. Tears ran down countless cheeks, as each child ended with the name of their own lost relative, often a mother or a father. Among them was Christina Marie Aceto, 12. "I love you Daddy," she said. "I miss you a lot. Richard Anthony Aceto".

A fence marking the perimeter of the north tower was festooned with handwritten tributes. "To my Dad, Steve Chucknick," one read. "You're in my heart for ever. Love always, your son Steven."

In a low profile approach to the anniversary, President George Bush remained in Washington for the day. He attended a short service at St John's Church, across from the White House, and shared a moment of silence at 8.46 am, the time when the first plane struck, with staff members on the south lawn.

"We remember the lives lost," Mr Bush said emerging from the church. "We remember the heroic deeds. We remember the compassion, the decency of our fellow citizens on that terrible day. We pray for the husbands and wives, the moms and dads and the sons and daughters and loved ones."

Members of the administration reaffirmed President Bush's war against terrorism. Ted Olson, the Solicitor General, who lost his wife Barbara on 11 September, told members of the Justice Department that it was a day for all families of those who died. "Their suffering and deaths must fuel our dedication to stamp out this cancer," he said.

More than 3,000 people died in the al-Qa'ida attacks on the United States. Ceremonies were also held at Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where another hijacked plane believed to have been en route to Washington crashed into a field, and at the Pentagon, where 184 people were killed by an incoming plane.

In a service at the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, said: "In our mind's eye, we can see the arsenal of democracy that it [the Pentagon] represents.

"The men and women who died there that day were part of that arsenal, defending democracy as surely as any patriot on the front line."

The day was also marked in capitals around the world. In London, Tony Blair and senior colleagues observed a minute's silence, and the Princess Royal opened a garden of remembrance near the US embassy in Grosvenor Square dedicated to the 67 British people who died in New York. A metal girder recovered from the twin towers is buried beneath the garden.

India, which has accused neighbouring Pakistan of fomenting terrorism, declared yesterday to be Anti-Terrorism Day. In Sydney, 3,000 trees were planted in a city park to commemorate the dead.

Vice-President Dick Cheney had been expected to attend the ceremony at ground zero ceremony, but he was asked to stay away by the Mayor because of security concerns. Instead he attended a church service in New York for workers of the Port Authority who died.

And as the sun set over Manhattan last night, the Tribute of Light, twin beams of light representing the fallen towers, shone skywards in homage to the victims.

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