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Thursday, December 18, 1997 Published at 15:27 GMT

image: [ BBC Correspondent: Monica Whitlock ]Monica Whitlock

There have been scenes of mass mourning in Khujand in North Tajikistan where people turned out in their thousands to receive the bodies of those killed in the Tajik airways flight that crashed in the United Arab Emirates. Crowds of people - many weeping - gathered to collect their dead as the 85 coffins were flown back to Khujand for burial. Only one person survived when the airliner, a Tupolov 154, burst into flames short of Sharjah airport on Monday night. Our central Asia correspondent, Monica Whitlock reports:

All the passengers onboard the Sharjah flight were from Khujand and Khujand turned out in force to receive its dead. Up to 3,000 mourners, many in tears, gathered in the main square while more crowds thronged around the airport.

The Prime Minister, Yahyo Azimov, spoke of a dreadful tragedy. He too is a Khujand man. This is the second city of Tajikistan but a wall of mountains divides it from the rest of the country and Khujand has its own distinct character and feel.

Other officials were on hand to help with the excruciating task of identifying those killed. Nineteen bodies are so badly damaged it's impossible to know who they were - they'll be buried in a mass grave - while relatives carried the rest of the dead back to their outlying towns and villages.

Families here are large and the disaster has touched everybody. All the funerals should be over by Friday, but elaborate rights of passage will continue for weeks as is customary.

A government team have been investigating the site of the crash in the desert near Sharjah airport. Early reports say the airliner exploded as it came into land but there's been no conclusive word on why.

Elsewhere in central Asia, Tupolov 154's appear to be still in service.

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