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Grief Spans The Globe

Condolences poured in from around the world Saturday following the shuttle disaster that killed seven astronauts. Grief was particularly intense in Israel and India. The astronauts included an Israeli national hero and an Indian emigre.

In Jerusalem, CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger reported that Israelis were treating the disaster as a national tragedy. In a country scarred by conflict and terror, the shuttle launch gave Israelis something to cheer about. Now, yet again, they're dealing with bereavement and grief.

Ilan Ramon was an Israeli air force colonel, and one of the pilots who bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. His mother was a Holocaust survivor. He became a national hero, representing the tragedy and triumph of the Jewish people.

Grief was also intense in India. One of the dead astronauts was Kalpana Chawla, 41, who emigrated to United States from India in 1980s and became an astronaut in 1994.

In India, CBS News Reporter Ranjan Gupta said Kalpana Chawla was regarded as a real success story. Just a couple of weeks ago, she was on the cover of one of India's leading magazines as an emigrant who had really made it good.

Chawla had been quoted many times as saying that this is what she wanted to do, and she kept in touch with people back home, and many people wrote to her, wanting to go to the U.S. and do what she had done. She was a real inspiration to many Indians, Gupta reported.

"For us in India, the fact that one of them (the astronauts) was an India-born woman adds a special poignancy to the tragedy," said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. "Our hearts go out to the families of the bright young men and women who worked on that spacecraft."

Elsewhere, government officials around the globe also expressed shock and sadness at the tragedy.

  • United Kingdom: British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote letters to President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to "express the government's sadness and offer his condolences," his office said.
  • Belgium: Minister for Scientific Research Charles Picque expressed regret at the "immense human tragedy."
  • Canada: "The seven astronauts on board were accomplished women and men of great courage who put their extraordinary skills and knowledge to the service of humankind," Prime Minister Jean Chretien said in a statement. "Each one was a hero. Their contribution to science and space exploration will never be forgotten."
  • France: "In the name of the French people, forever a friend to the American people, I express to you the profound emotion and feeling of solidarity in the ordeal that all my compatriots are feeling," President Jacques Chirac in a letter to Mr. Bush.
  • Germany: In a letter of condolence to President Bush, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder paid tribute to the "courageous men and women" who died in the "terrible tragedy."
  • Italy: Premier Silvio Berlusconi said he was "deeply shaken by today's tragedy. In the name of the Italian people and government, I express condolences and solidarity with the families of the victims and with the American people."
  • European Union: Commission President Romano Prodi told Italian news agencies in Bologna the "enormous tragedy" occurred "in the service of progress, science and in this case, we can really say humanity."
  • Luxembourg: "The United States has written most of the most beautiful pages in the history of space conquest," Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said in a message to Mr. Bush. "However this accident reminds us that conquest and the progress of science in the interests of humanity, which is so closely linked to it, remains a project full of dangers."
  • Mexico: The Foreign Relations Department "expressed its condolences to the government and people of the United States."
  • Poland: Prime Minister Leszek Miller sent lettters of condolence to Mr. Bush and Sharon, government spokesman Michal Tober said.

    "The astronauts gave their lives on the altar of science," Adam Michalec, a researcher at the Space Observatory of the respected Jagiellonian University in Krakow, southern Poland, told the Polish news agency PAP.

  • Russia: President Vladimir Putin called President Bush to express his condolences, the presidential press service said. Putin said U.S.-Russian cooperation in space exploration made the accident even more tragic for Russians. Russia, which scrapped its Mir orbiting station in 2001, is deeply involved with the United States in developing the International Space Station, or ISS. Putin also sent a telegram of condolence to the Israeli prime minister.
  • United Nations: "Because the exploration of space knows no national boundaries, the loss of the Columbia is a loss to all humankind," Secretary-General Kofi Annan said.
  • Vatican City: Pope John Paul II received the news with great sadness and prayed for the astronauts during services, a Vatican official said on condition of anonymity.
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