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Canada PM to mourn with Kanishka kin

June 21, 2005 17:32 IST
Over 100 members of families of those who perished aboard Air-India Flight 182, Kanishka, will attend a memorial service in Cork (Ireland) to mark the tragedy's 20th anniversary.

Prime Minister Paul Martin will leave Ottawa on June 22 to head the services that start at 7 am on June 23, the day Flight 182 disintegrated over the South Atlantic, the work of terrorists who planted an explosive device in the cargo hold of the Boeing 747, Canadian and Indian investigators say.

According to a draft program released by the Canadian government, British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, Chief Prosecutor Robert Wright and Assistant Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Gary Bass, will accompany Martin.

On March 17, accused Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri were acquitted of charges in the death of 329 people aboard Flight 182 and two Japanese baggage handlers at Tokyo's Narita Airport hours earlier.

The families' agony

On June 23, Cork County Mayor Paddy Sheehan will deliver the welcoming remarks at 8 am, after which families will assemble around the Sundial erected to mark the tragedy and observe a minute's silence. The silence which will be broken by chanting by the families.

There will be readings by representatives of Hindu and Muslim religious leaders, along with Fr Liam Crowley and Canon Paul Willoughby. Also present will be the Ahkista School Choir.

Irish President Mary McAleese will lay a wreath, along with a representative of the victims' families.

Martin will also lay a wreath, along with Premier Campbell,?leaders of Canadian Opposition parties, Bantry Town Council Mayor PJ Sheehan,?Robert Wright and Bass.

This?will be followed by short speeches by President McAleese, Martin, and Indian Ambassador to Ireland Saurabh Kumar.

The families have been asked to choose four representatives to speak briefly, after which?L N Turlapati, also a member of the victims' families?will propose a vote of thanks.

At the end of all speeches, Prime Minister Martin will release white balloons.

McAleese and Martin will light lamps in memory of the victims and walk to the water's edge to place them in the sea. Families will place lamps in the area.

The ceremony is scheduled to last about 90 minutes.

This is the first time since the tragedy 20 years ago that a Canadian prime minister will visit Cork (Ireland) and acknowledge that the Air-India bombing was a Canadian tragedy and not an Indian tragedy, as has been the Canadian government's attitude all these years.

'Simply because it was an Air-India plane and some people wore turbans, it does not mean the passengers on board Flight 182 were not Canadians,' says S J S Chhatwal, who was India's High Commissioner to Canada when the Air-India tragedy took place.

It was something he had repeatedly pointed out to Canadian officials and politicians during his tenure in Ottawa and subsequently during private visits, Chatwal told

June 23 has been designated a day of national mourning and Canadian flags will fly at half mast.

To help the victims' families attend the ceremony, the Canadian government has offered $2,500 per person, to a maximum of two persons per family.

Complete coverage: the Kanishka bombing

Ajit Jain in Toronto