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The nation mourns...

HU leads services for the victims of the Sichuan quake and pledges strong support for the recovery effort.

CHINESE leaders laid flowers and survivors burned paper money for departed loved ones yesterday as a mournful nation marked the first anniversary of a devastating earthquake that left nearly 90,000 people dead or missing and 5 million homeless.

Addressing a memorial service near a destroyed school in Wenchuan County's Yingxiu Town in Sichuan Province, President Hu Jintao pledged strengthened support for rebuilding and disaster prevention and efforts toward a "more harmonious relationship between man and nature."

"The great task of earthquake rescue and recovery reminds us again that unity is strength, that victory can only be gained through struggle," Hu said, before government leaders, diplomats, students and emergency services workers in laying chrysanthemums at a white marble memorial.

Hu placed a white chrysanthemum at the memorial in Yingxiu, a town near the epicenter that was wiped out by the quake, and called for collective strength in face of extreme heardship.

"During the quake rescue and reconstruction, the whole country has strived with one heart," Hu said.

"The constant improvement of our national strength since reform and opening up began is the firm material foundation for our victory over the massive earthquake disaster," he said in the speech, shown live on Chinese TV.

The 30-minute ceremony followed a minute of silence beginning at 2:28pm, the moment the 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck on May 12, 2008, toppling villages, snapping bridges and razing large portions of Sichuan and two neighboring provinces in southwest China.

Hu said China immediately launched the post-quake reconstruction based on the principles of "putting people first and respecting nature" and had made remarkable achievements in rebuilding homes and public facilities including schools and hospitals, as well as in industrial reconstruction, cultural protection and environmental recovery.

"The post-quake reconstruction efforts have made important progress, and the quake survivors are marching toward a new life," the president said.

He urged efforts to restore and improve the quality of public services and promote the development of industries "with local characteristics" and a competitive edge.

Priority should be given to restoring basic living facilities and infrastructure and making sure survivors can move into new permanent homes as soon as possible, he said.

The president also encouraged people in the area to rely on their own efforts and work hard for a better life.

Efforts should be made to monitor and supervise the use of the quake relief and reconstruction funds and goods and to ensure the quality of reconstruction projects, he said.

In the nearby old Beichuan County, mourners gathered at a destroyed middle school where about 1,000 students and faculty were killed, piling flowers and burning candles and sticks of incense.

Jin Dalan and her husband burned paper money as an offering to their 17-year-old son who was crushed in the school collapse.

"I'm just trying to talk to him to ask why he doesn't visit me in my dreams. I just want to know that he's OK and that no one is bullying him,' Jin said.


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