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Swedes pay homage as bodies arrive


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Swedes say their government didn't move fast enough after the disaster.
Sweden is the hardest hit country outside southern Asia.
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STOCKHOLM, Sweden (CNN) -- Sweden has begun paying homage to the many nationals who died in the Indian Ocean tsunami, putting on a formal and symbolic ceremony for the first bodies returning to home soil.

Six coffins, draped in Swedish flags, arrived in Stockholm-Arlanda Airport early Wednesday morning after being loaded onto a Hercules at Phuket International Airport in Thailand.

A procession of family members and Swedish leaders and dignitaries lined up to receive the coffins in the cold and early morning darkness of Stockholm.

The formal ceremony was a symbolic gesture by the government to put things right, after publicly admitting they were slow to react to the tsunami and the enormity of the nation's involvement.

So far, 50 Swedes have been confirmed dead but 702 are listed as missing and about 1,201 remain unaccounted for.

More than 20,000 Swedes were in the region when the disaster struck, many on Thailand's Phuket Island, far from the ice and snow of their homeland.

"This is the most popular holiday resort for the Swedish people," Per Allan Olssen of the Swedish Red Cross said.

"It was almost incomprehensible that something like that struck us."

Only nine million people live in Sweden, and with so many nationals dead and missing, many Swedes know someone who has not come back, reports CNN's Robyn Curnow.

Speaking from Stockholm, Curnow said there was uncertainty about when the remaining 46 Swedish bodies would be transported home.

The government's acknowledgment that it reacted slowly has failed to appease families affected.

"Some families I have been speaking to have constantly said they don't feel like they have been getting the support trying to find missing Swedes," Curnow said.

She said it was too early to say whether officials would be forced to resign.

In Thailand, Swedish police have blamed official documentation procedures and identification processes for delays in getting bodies and injured people out, Curnow said.

Efforts to track down the missing and check bodies in Thailand were continuing, but officials said it could take months to recover bodies from underbrush, analyze dental records and perform the other tests needed to fully identify the victims.

Sweden's Prime Minister Goeran Persson, meanwhile, has warned that his country's death toll could exceed 1,000 -- a catastrophe the country hasn't experienced since the ferry Estonia sank in the Baltic Sea in 1994, killing 892 people, including 551 Swedes, The Associated Press reported.

Curnow said the country, known for remaining neutral in world conflicts, was in deep shock over the disaster.

"The country hasn't been at war in 200 years. Sweden has one of the longest life expectancies in the world, so the death of hundreds, maybe thousands of children, families and young adults is completely shocking to them," she said.

The Scandinavian nation held an official day of mourning on New Year's Day to commemorate those killed in the disaster.


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