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Wednesday, December 17, 1997 Published at 13:35 GMT



Despatches
image: [ BBC Correspondent: Monica Whitlock ]Monica Whitlock
Ashkhabad

Tajikistan has observed a day of mourning for the 85 passengers and crew killed on the Tajik airways flight that crashed in the United Arab Emirates on Monday. Flags flew at half-mast all across the country, while families awaited the return of the bodies for burial. All the passengers were from towns and villages in the Northern region of Khujand, where mourning will last three days. Monica Whitlock reports on a disaster that's shaken a people already wearied by violence.

Mosques held prayers for the dead all across this small mountainous country. Radio stations played solemn music but no one needed reminding that this was a day of sorrow.

In Khujand, relatives still don't know when the bodies of the eighty five men, women and children will be brought home for burial. Elaborate rites of passage are sacred in Tajik culture and families are anxious for news.

The passengers had chartered the plane to Dubai for what's called a shop-tour, to buy televisions and other electronic goods. Tajikistan is exceptionally isolated and these charters are the main way of getting such imports.

It's common to see flights so loaded with goods and clothing that the passengers are barely visible.

Each family has been offered just over $500 in compensation. That sounds like a big sum for a poor country, but it's only the price of about two televisions from Dubai.

Tajiks have seen much violent and sudden death. They're just recovering from a war, and the murder rate is horribly high.

But the shop tourists were not gunmen or faction leaders; they were enterprising people simply trying to make a living. There's still been no word on what caused the two Tupolov 154 to burst into flames as it came into land.





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