MADRID - Wearing black face masks, Spanish and foreign dignitaries paid tribute to the victims of the coronavirus pandemic and the health workers combating it in a ceremony on Thursday led by King Felipe VI. Many of the roughly 400 guests outside the Royal Palace in Madrid, including relatives of some of the more than 28,000 victims of the disease in one of Europe's worst-hit countries, laid white roses on a black pedestal surrounding a bowl of burning coals. The king told the relatives of the victims: "You are not alone in your pain, it's our shared pain, it's our grief that today is witnessed here by all Spaniards." He said many of those who had died were elderly people "whose lives changed the course of our history" towards democracy. The king praised families for abiding by one of Europe's toughest lockdowns "with great courage, self-sacrifice and discipline", which he said was fundamental to combat the pandemic. "Spain has shown its best spirit. Because when the years go by and we remember this time, these days, we will also remember that we have given ourselves an example, once again in our history, of civility, of maturity, of resistance, of commitment to others," he said. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and other senior EU officials, and World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also attended the event at the Armoury Square of the palace. Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez paid tribute to the public servants "who have fought the pandemic on the front line". In a rare moment of unity despite frequent tensions with Madrid over Catalonia's pro-independence drive, the separatist leader of the Catalan regional government, Quim Torra, was present at the event. But the right-wing Vox party - the third-largest force in parliament - refused to attend, labelling the event "an advertising campaign for the government" and saying that "the victims' truth is not being told". REUTERS
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