Musharraf leads day of tributes to quake dead

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The Independent Online

Pakistan's President led a sombre memorial service in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir to mark the first anniversary of a massive earthquake that killed more than 80,000 people across Pakistan and India.

Sirens wailed and a minute's silence was held at 8:52 am, when the 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck across northern Pakistan and the divided state of Kashmir, leaving more than 100,000 injured and 3.5 million homeless.

General Pervez Musharraf led the memorial ceremony in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, at the grounds of the Azad Jammu Kashmir University, which was destroyed in the quake. Hundreds stood in silence in the normally bustling main street of Muzaffarabad, one of the cities worst hit by the disaster.

General Musharraf praised the massive effort, led by Pakistan's military, to rescue people from the rubble, provide relief and begin large-scale reconstruction. "It is a victory for the government, for the army, for the people, for the non-governmental organisations and for the world that supported it," he told at least 1,000 people who attended the service. "It was due to the help and generosity of the whole world and the NGOs that we were able to improve the situation."

General Musharraf urged people affected by the quake to be patient, promising his government was working to improve their lives.

But the task of rebuilding is daunting, even with pledges of US$6.7bn (£3.6bn) in aid. More than 600,000 homes, 6,500 schools, and 800 clinics and hospitals were destroyed as well as more than 3,500 miles of roads.

In Muzaffarabad, hundreds of buildings collapsed, trapping thousands under the rubble. The quake triggered massive landslides that sheared thousands of tons of soil from towering mountains surrounding the city. Ghostly white scars still remain on the mountain faces where the land was cut away.Displaced families still crowd city parks and hillsides, living in shacks or under canvas. The government says about 40,000 people remain in tents.