Martinique Pays Homage To The Dead

Hardbeatnews, FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique, Thurs. Aug. 25, 2005: Many sobbed, while others held flowers or candles as they joined together inside the national stadium here yesterday to pay tribute to relatives and friends whose lives were cut short by the fatal August 16 plane crash of West Caribbean Airways.

Joining the more than 30,000 mourners – both inside and outside the stadium – were French President Jacques Chirac and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The two presidents laid bouquets of flowers on a heart-shaped tablet that included the names of the victims while representatives of the island’s Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Protestant, Muslim and Greek Orthodox faiths led the ceremony that included a procession of children dressed in white, placing candles next to photographs of the victims.

Around town, all of the public buildings were closed and the flag flew at half-staff.

Chirac in a statement, upon arrival in this French dependent territory, said, “Today the heart of every French man and every French woman beats in unison with those of their brothers and sisters in Martinique.”

While Chavez, surrounded by armed bodyguards, added, “We have suffered from this tragedy as though we were from Martinique, as though we were French. I pray that this tragedy … on Venezuelan soil helps us reinforce our unity … We are all Caribbean.”

The West Caribbean Airways jet crashed on Aug. 16 in a remote Venezuelan area with 160 people on board – 152 of whom were tourists returning to Martinique from Panama while eight were crew members from Colombia.

Investigations into the cause of the crash continues but French Transport Minister Dominique Perben has reported that Venezuela would send the recovered flight date and cockpit voice recorders of the MD-82 jet to France for analysis.

The Martinique Promotions office in New York has said the island will mourn officially for two months.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Supplemented by Martinique radio reports. –