Subject: AFP: Susilo, Gusmao mark Christmas on tsunami-scarred Nias

December 25, 2005

Susilo, Gusmao mark Christmas on tsunami-scarred Nias

GUNUNG SITOLI, North Sumatra (AFP): President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his East Timorese counterpart celebrated Christmas Sunday on the tsunami-scarred island of Nias, which was hit by another tremor ahead of their arrival.

Susilo attended a service at a soccer field with around 6,000 people on the mainly Christian island, where more than 900 people also died in a devastating earthquake in March.

The president said that his visit here was a display of his "empathy to the people of Nias and southern Nias (the worst-affected area) who have suffered because of the earthquake and the tsunami.

"With the spirit of Christmas, it is my hope that the people of Nias can bounce back and further build Nias," he told the crowd, as he also thanked foreign and domestic donors for helping in reconstruction work.

Susilo pledged to take measures to speed up reconstruction on the island, which was also one of the Indonesian areas hit by a 9.3-magnitude quake that triggered tsunamis last Dec. 26.

Along with East Timorese president Xanana Gusmao, Susilo watched a play by children depicting the earthquake and listened to a 40-strong choir perform.

He and his entourage departed shortly afterwards for Medan, from where they will travel to Aceh for memorials and prayers on Monday marking the one-year anniversary of the tsunami, which killed some 168,000 people in Indonesia.

Nias was rocked earlier on Sunday by a 4.6-magnitude quake which was among three that struck off the island of Sumatra between 7:08 a.m. (0008 GMT) and 10:16 a.m., the Meteorology and Geophysics (BMG) worker Budi told AFP.

The other two clocked in at 4.7 and 5.4 on the Richter scale and were felt on Sumatra, he said.

Indonesia sits on the so-called Pacific Rim of Fire, where the meeting of continental plates causes high volcanic and seismic activity. (***)

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