Belgian town honours school bus crash victims

LOMMEL, Belgium, March 21 Wed Mar 21, 2012 9:09am EDT

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LOMMEL, Belgium, March 21 (Reuters) - Belgian and Dutch royals and prime ministers joined more than 5,000 people on Wednesday honouring the 15 children and two staff from a single Belgian school killed in a bus crash in Switzerland last week.

White ribbons were tied around trees leading to the sports arena where the sombre televised ceremony in the Belgian town of Lommel took place.

Soldiers first carried in a brown coffin containing the body of 53-year-old teacher Raymond Theunis. Other military pallbearers then brought in white coffins with the remains of the 11- and 12-year-olds, followed in procession by their families.

The coffins were laid in a semi-circle beneath photographs and handprints of the victims killed on their return from a skiing holiday.

Photos of a 15th child and a female staff member also hung in the hall. Their families chose to hold private funerals.

Parents, siblings and the son of the teacher read eulogies to their lost relatives.

"The last days of your life were like a party ... You had the time of your life ... You stayed behind in the mountains. Hopefully you are happy there," one father said.

The Belgian bus crashed into a tunnel wall in Switzerland on Tuesday last week, killing 22 children and six adults on their return from a ski trip for two Belgian schools.

A ceremony was planned on Thursday for seven children from the other school in the town of Heverlee, some 25 kilometres (15 miles) east of Belgian capital Brussels.

Belgian King Albert II and Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and their wives, as well as Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo and his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte were present to pay their respects.

Six Dutch children were killed in the crash and four more injured. Lommel is right on the Dutch border. Another of the victims was of British and Belgian descent. (Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop)

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