Several hundred Swiss dead in tidal waves
The president, Samuel Schmid, has announced that several hundred Swiss have died in last week's tidal waves in Asia.
Schmid said on Tuesday that the worst fears of the past few days were likely to be realised, with a far greater number of Swiss victims than previously thought.
"The number of Swiss victims is much higher than we assumed so far," said Schmid, his voice trembling. "On December 26, several hundred Swiss people lost their lives."
Schmid made the announcement after receiving information from Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who is currently visiting the affected region.
He added that many of the bodies would never be found, making the grieving process even harder.
"We pay our respects to the dead and to the grieving families."
Although the government says several hundred Swiss are likely to have been killed in the tsunami, the number of those officially declared dead still stands at 23, said foreign ministry official Peter Sutter.
He added that a further 500 were still missing and that of those, around 100 were almost certainly dead because they disappeared under circumstances that left little hope of survival. This leaves 400 unaccounted for.
Most of the dead and missing were on holiday in Thailand.
The president gave his condolences to relatives on behalf of the cabinet, but added that people should not entirely abandon hope.
He also gave condolences to "all families, all peoples, all governments, all communities hit by this tragedy that we all mourn".
In total, at least 145,000 people are estimated to have died in the disaster, which extended across southeast Asia.
Indonesia is the worst-affected country with at least 94,000 deaths, followed by Sri Lanka with at least 30,000 dead.
At least 10,000 tourists died in the tidal waves, mostly Europeans. Currently, Germany and Sweden are the worst affected European countries.
If confirmed, the Swiss death toll would mark the country's worst disaster in nearly 200 years.
On Wednesday, Schmid and his cabinet colleagues are scheduled to take part in a memorial service in the cathedral in the Swiss capital, Bern.
Church bells are also set to ring across the country at noon in remembrance of the disaster victims and flags will be lowered.
Swiss television is to broadcast special programmes on Wednesday to help Swiss Solidarity - the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation - to raise funds for the tsunami victims.
The charity announced on Tuesday that it had collected SFr44.5 million ($38.8 million) in donations.
The government has given SFr27 million in aid and has sent relief teams to Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and the Maldives.
swissinfo with agencies
The tsunami was triggered by an undersea eathquake near Indonesia on December 26.
Several hundred Swiss are now thought to have died in the Indian Ocean tsunami.
Officially the death toll is 23. 500 are missing with around 100 of these presumed dead, leaving 400 unaccounted for.
Overall, the death toll for the disaster is more than 145,000.
Switzerland has announced that it is to give SFr27 million to help the victims of the disaster.
Donations to Swiss Solidarity topped a record SFr44.5 million by Tuesday.
The Swiss are to hold a country-wide memorial day for the victims of the tsunami on Wednesday.
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