Europe falls silent for three minutes in memory of the 150,000 dead

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The Independent Online

From the trading floors of the London Stock Exchange to the metro stations of Rome, there was silence. For three minutes today, all of Europe stopped to remember the 150,000 people killed in the Asian tsunami.

The 450 million citizens of the 25 nations in the European Union were asked to pay their respects to the victims of the Boxing Day disaster, which it was announced yesterday had probably claimed tens of thousands of lives which have yet to be accounted for.

As monsoons and flooding hamper the relief effort in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, airports, shops, factories and television stations across Europe will halt their operations. A European Commission spokesman said the tribute was to "show solidarity and mourn the victims of the disaster". More than 10,000 tourists are dead or missing. Sweden is worst hit in the EU, with 52 confirmed deaths and 1,903 missing.

In Britain, broadcasters interrupted schedules while the Government called for employers to ensure that their employees were able to observe the tribute. Prayers were being said in Canterbury Cathedral on either side of the silence. There will be no respite for the victims. As the UN declared that aid was reaching most victims in most affected areas, its chief strategist said that many devastated villages were still being found in Sumatra.

Jan Egeland, the head of the UN's humanitarian mission, said: "Many, many of these villages are gone. There is no trace of them. They had hardly roads before. Now they have nothing. What the final toll will be we will never know. But we be talking tens of thousands of further deaths." The UN said it now had 50 military and civilian helicopters operating in northern Sumatra and Aceh province, the area worst hit with 94,081 deaths. More than 100 helicopter flights a day are being made from the USS Abraham Lincoln, the American carrier which is anchored offshore.

As Washington continued to make its presence felt, Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, suggested the influx of American aid could help remove discontent in the region which has fuelled terrorism.

Speaking as he arrived in Indonesia ahead of a summit on the aftermath, Mr Powell said: "We hope that through these efforts people will see that the US is committed ... We believe it is in the best interest of those countries and it's in our best interest and it dries up those pools of dissatisfaction which might give rise to terrorist activity."

As Tony Blair said that he was taking charge of British aid policy after returning from his holiday, it was announced that the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, was to attend the summit in Jakarta tomorrow to represent the G8 nations.

Donations by the British public to the appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee reached £76m yesterday. Organisers said they expected the final total to exceed £100m. One major charity, Médécins Sans Frontières, has urged the public to stop sending it money, saying it now has enough.

The aid effort still faces huge obstacles. Pneumonia, malaria and gangrene have emerged in Aceh. In the Andaman and Nicobar islands, authorities have promised to bring aid directly to islanders after rioting over a lack of food and water. The World Food Programme said hundreds of fishermen in Burma had died but had not been accounted for by Rangoon.

Police in Thailand drew up a portrait of a Western-looking man who may have kidnapped a Swedish schoolboy. Fears are also rising for the safety of orphans from people traffickers.

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