Pak tones down 63rd Independence Day celebrations in tribute to flood victims

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Islamabad, Aug.14 (ANI): Pakistan observed its 63rd Independence Day on Saturday with sobriety and solemnity, in tribute to victims of the worst floods to hit the country in decades.

At least 14 million people, or eight percent of the population, have had their lives disrupted by one of the worst catastrophes in Pakistan's history. Six million of them still need food, shelter and water.

The government only held a simple flag-raising ceremony in Islamabad and a wreath laying ceremony at the mausoleum of Pakistan's founder, Quaid e Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Karachi.

Officials cancelled the colourful, fireworks-heavy ceremony normally held at midnight August 14.

Government leaders reportedly spent much of the day visiting flood victims amid warnings that more surges may be on the way, threatening cities and towns along main rivers.

Triggered by unusually heavy monsoon rains, the floods have torn through the country from its mountainous northwest, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes and an estimated 1.7 million acres (nearly 700,000 hectares) of farmland.

In southern Pakistan, the River Indus is now more than 15 miles (25 kilometres) wide at some points - 25 times wider than during normal monsoon seasons.

Many flood victims are living in muddy camps or overcrowded government buildings, while thousands more are sleeping in the open next to their cows, goats and whatever possessions they managed to drag with them.

The UN has appealed for 460 million dollars to help Pakistan get immediate relief, but officials have said the country will need billions to rebuild after the waters recede.

US President Barack Obama said Washington would not abandon Pakistan in its time of need.

"We will remain committed to helping Pakistan and will work side by side with you and the international community toward a recovery that brings back the dynamic vitality of your nation," Obama said in a statement

In his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Yusouf Raza Gilani said the country faces challenges similar to those during the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent.

"I want to assure the nation that we, your democratic government, will leave no stone unturned in the way of recovery of the people (affected by floods) from the disaster. I have firm confidence that every individual of our nation, the affluent, the civil society and our youth, will participate with enthusiasm, in the process of helping the flood victims, and getting them back to their feet," said Gilani in his address. (ANI)

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