Sun, May 08, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Leaders gather to mark end of WWII

VICTORY IN EUROPE Dignitaries assembled in France and elsewhere in Europe to mark the 60th anniversary of Nazi Germany's surrender, officially ending WWII

AP , REIMS, FRANCE

Ceremonies to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II took place yesterday in the city where the surrender documents were signed on May 7, 1945.

The activities in the heart of France's champagne country are part of Europe-wide ceremonies marking the surrender of Nazi troops.

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin canceled his visit to Reims yesterday because he was unwell, his office said without elaborating. Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie will be in attendance.

Ambassadors from Britain, Russia, Germany and the US are to attend events beginning at the Surrender Museum, where, in the war room of Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the capitulation documents were signed a week after Hitler committed suicide.

The documents were signed by US Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith and a French and a Soviet general with German General Alfred Jodl just before 3am on May 7. The next day -- May 8, 1945 -- an armistice was signed in Berlin. World War II raged on in the Pacific until Japan's surrender on Aug. 15.

"It was in Reims where Europe tasted its first hours of freedom," Jean-Louis Schneiter, Mayor of Reims, said this week ahead of the celebrations.

Albert Meserlin, a veteran US Army photographer who served as Eisenhower's personal photographer during World War II, also is expected to visit the museum, located inside the Lycee Roosevelt high school.

Today, French President Jacques Chirac will mark the anniversary in a ceremony on the Champs-Elysees in Paris to be attended by veterans and top officials. He will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and a military parade will follow.

In Germany, a memorial service is scheduled for today at St. Hedwig Cathedral in Berlin, followed by a wreath-laying at the Neue Wache memorial in central Berlin and more ceremonies in the Bundestag, or lower house of parliament.

Also today, Britain's Prince Charles, government representatives, veterans and active members of the armed forces will lay wreaths at the Cenotaph in central London.

Later in the day, several thousand people are expected to attend a VE commemoration concert in Trafalgar Square featuring British pop stars and war-time singer Vera Lynn.

The same day, US President George W. Bush is to lead a ceremony at the American cemetery in Maastrich, the Netherlands.

The celebrations culminate Monday in Moscow, where Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited dozens of world leaders.

Lithuania and Estonia are boycotting the festivities, saying the Kremlin has refused to acknowledge its role in five decades of Soviet occupation. Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga is the only Baltic leader to have accepted the invitation to attend the event.

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