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Germany holds memorial service for victims of Love Parade

DUISBURG, Germany (AP) — Thousands of grief-stricken mourners watched in tears on Saturday as rescue workers lit one white candle for every one of the 21 people crushed to death in a tunnel at the Love Parade techno music festival.

Around 500 people attended the mourning ceremony at Salvator church in the western city of Duisburg — the scene of the tragedy a week ago — and many times more watched the event on screens in the city's football stadium and a dozen other churches. Several TV stations carried the service live, and flags across the country flew at half-mast.

"The Love Parade was danced to death," Nikolaus Schneider, the head of the Rhineland Lutheran church assembly, said in his opening sermon, following somber organ music and prayers for the deceased. "In the middle of a celebration of lust for life, death showed its ugly face to all of us."

The 21 people who died were aged 18 to 38 and included foreigners from Spain, Australia, Italy, Bosnia, China and Holland. Another 500 persons were injured, some 25 of them are still in hospital.

Among those at Salvator church were German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Christian Wulff, family members of the victims and many relief workers who had helped rescue the injured.

Franz-Josef Overbeck, the Roman Catholic bishop of the neighboring city of Essen, said: "Life can be so oppositional: One moment there is a party, the next moment we are lying helplessly on the ground."

"We want to stir our life in secure ways, but don't have it under control."

The ceremony was led by the two Roman Catholic and Lutheran Protestant clerics — representing Germany's two main denominations. Several rescue workers also spoke, as well as the governor of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia — where Duisburg is located.

Visibly shaken, Hannelore Kraft talked about the many partygoers who survived the mass panic and now had to find ways to live on with their traumatic experiences. Her own son, 17-year-old Jan, also attended the Love Parade, but was not injured. For several hours after the tragedy, the governor was not able to contact him because the cell phone system in Duisburg had collapsed.

"There are many thousands who survived but whose souls were injured," Kraft said. "They are suffering in silence."

After the ceremony, the families of the victims were shielded from reporters and camera teams and taken to an unknown place where they had the chance to talk to counselors and priests.

In the afternoon, a few hundred mourners marched from the city's train station to the direction of the tunnel. They were holding white balloons, but were not allowed to enter the tunnel, which had been blocked by police out of security concerns.

Anger has been building in recent days over the city's and organizer's resistance to take on responsibility for the deaths. Over 250 people protested in Duisburg on Thursday and demanded the resignation of the city's mayor, Adolf Sauerland.

People blame Sauerland and the city's authorities for failing to adequately plan for the event. Private organizers also have come under fire for allegedly trying to squeeze as many as 1.4 million revelers into too small a space and for allowing only one access point onto the festival grounds. Until now, it is not clear how many people exactly attended the Love Parade, but more current estimates speak of only 150,000 to 300,000 persons. Initially, the organizers had said that 1.4 million partygoers had come to Duisburg to dance and celebrate.

A preliminary report by police investigators Wednesday accused the organizer of the Love Parade of major security breaches which may have led to the crush. But it left many unanswered questions regarding the responsibility of the Duisburg municipality, which was to oversee the event.

The crush occurred in the jam-packed tunnel that was the sole entrance point to the festival grounds.

Since the tragedy, hundreds of people have lit candles, left notes and placed flowers on the site of the deaths and injuries.