Mon, Jun 07, 2004 - Page 1 News List

World leaders honor the dead from D-Day invasion

SOLEMN CEREMONIES Differences were put aside as 20 heads of state gathered in Normandy, France, to honor Allied troops killed in the 1944 landings

REUTERS , COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, FRANCE

World leaders honored the thousands of Allied troops killed in the D-Day landings at solemn ceremonies in Normandy yesterday and vowed to safeguard the transatlantic alliance forged 60 years ago.

US President George W. Bush and French President Jacques Chirac, putting aside differences over the Iraq war, said modern leaders had a duty to honor what the soldiers died for by standing together in the cause of freedom and democracy.

"In the trials and that sacrifice of war we became inseparable allies," Bush told a ceremony at the US cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, near the beach codenamed Omaha where US troops landed and suffered heavy losses on June 6, 1944.

"Our great alliance is strong and it is still needed today," he said to a crowd of war veterans following a 21-gun salute and a military flyover to honor the dead.

Standing before rows of graves marked by white crosses and Stars of David, Chirac thanked the Allied forces for their sacrifices in the landings which forced back German troops and helped liberate Europe from the Nazis' stranglehold.

"The friendship remains intact to this day -- confident, demanding, founded in mutual respect. America is our eternal ally, and that alliance and solidarity are all the stronger for having been forged in those terrible hours," Chirac said.

Their pledges followed talks in Paris on Saturday at which both leaders chose to highlight the strengths in ties in an effort to rebuild their relationship, strained by the US-led war in Iraq, which France opposed.

About 20 heads of state and government and thousands of World War II veterans gathered amid tight security in Normandy to commemorate the anniversary ceremonies.

Some 30,000 soldiers were deployed in the area around the Normandy beaches and helicopters patrolled overhead. Fighter planes were ready to shoot down any aircraft violating the no-fly zone around the event if requested to do so by Paris.

Among the guests was Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the first German leader to attend D-Day events in France, and President Vladimir Putin, the first Russian head of state to attend.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and Australian Prime Minister John Howard were attending. Leaders of Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland and New Zealand were also present.

The leaders have underlined the importance of reconciliation as well as remembrance as they prepared for one of the biggest security operations staged on French soil.

Some 23,400 British and American paratroopers were dropped inland on D-Day and more than 132,000 troops were then landed on Normandy beaches codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

Total Allied casualties on D-Day are estimated at 10,000, of whom 2,500 were killed. German casualties are not known but are estimated at between 4,000 and 9,000.

Bush also used the occasion to remember former US president Ronald Reagan, who died on Saturday. "He was a courageous man himself and a gallant leader in the cause of freedom. Today we honor the memory of Ronald Reagan," he said.

Reagan's Pointe du Hoc speech, delivered on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, was one of his most famous.

Also see story:

Protesters greet Bush in France

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