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September 24, 2017

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Australian PM pays respects at 'ground zero' of Bali bombings

KUTA, Indonesia -- Australia's prime minister paid her respects Saturday to the 202 people who perished a decade ago in the Bali nightclub bombings, visiting a commemorative stone monument on the resort island now covered in flowers, flags and victims' photos.

Friends and families of the dead — many from Australia, which lost 88 citizens in the blasts — have for the past week left tokens of their grief, some breaking down in tears, others looking for closure to an event that changed their lives.

"This has been a very emotional 24 hours in Bali," Prime Minister Julia Gillard told reporters after visiting the monument, which stands across from the old Sari Club that Islamists attacked, together with Paddy's Bar, on Oct. 12, 2002, bringing carnage to Kuta's party strip.

"This is time for us to mark a nation-changing event," she said.

Gillard arrived in Indonesia Thursday night, despite police declaring their highest security alert over an apparent terror threat to Friday's 10-year anniversary ceremony, which was attended by hundreds of families.

Police moved to reassure mourners hours before the ceremony, saying the threat was "not significant" and Gillard said Saturday she had felt no anxiety over the warning.

She praised Indonesia for its crackdown on terrorism, which has crippled the Jemaah Islamiyah network behind the bombings and several other deadly attacks.

"This terror network has been held to account. People have been prosecuted and (the network) has been dismantled."

Friday's ceremony was attended by hundreds of families, with remarks made by relatives of the victims, Gillard, John Howard — prime minister at the time of the attacks — and Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa.

The emotionally charged ceremony was seen as a point of closure for many who have mourned lost loved ones for a decade.

But for others 10 years is not long enough.

"It (the ceremony) pulled my heartstrings and made me cry, especially hearing from victims' families," Australian Jan Laczynski, 45, who was at the Sari Club hours before the attacks that killed five of his Indonesian friends.

"Lots of people are talking about it like a good ending to what happened. But for me, it's not over. I'll be back here on October 12 next year."

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