World / Europe

Leaders pay tribute to WWI dead

By Agence France-Presse in Hartmannswiller, France, andMoscow (China Daily) Updated: 2014-08-04 07:34

Putin says world should take Great War as a cautionary tale for future

French President Francois Hollande and his German counterpart Joachim Gauck paid emotional tribute on Sunday to the millions of soldiers who died during World War I, exactly 100 years after Germany declared hostilities against France.

The two leaders united at Hartmannswillerkopf to remember the 30,000 soldiers who lost their lives in fierce battles around the rocky peak known as the "man-eater" in France's Alsace region near the border between the two countries.

In a speech lauding as "an example for the world" the friendship between two countries that were once fierce enemies, Hollande remembered conflicts still raging around the world, including the confrontation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza that has claimed over 1,800 lives.

"France and Germany, beyond their suffering and bereavements, had the courage to makeup," Hollande said.

Their friendship is "an example for the world, a strength and an invitation, wherever peace is threatened, wherever human rights are violated, wherever the principles of international law are flouted.

"It was the best way to honor the dead and provide a guarantee of peace to the living," he said.

"All efforts must be made to impose, today more than ever, a cease-fire in Gaza and end the suffering of civilian populations," he added in a speech that also touched on the Ukrainian crisis and the plight of Christians in Iraq where jihadists hold swaths of territory.

Standing near the bucolic peak of Hartmannswillerkopf, Gauck reminded onlookers that the site "symbolizes the absurdity and horror of those years".

"We commemorate the dead, the missing, the injured on both sides, and we honor their memory. They are not forgotten," he said.

The symbolism of the event was all the stronger as Aug 3, 1914, "opened a period of 30 years of conflicts, bitterness, massacres and barbarity between France and Germany", the French president said in a statement.

It testifies "to the strength of the friendship between the two countries, which allows them to look together at their common history, including at what has been the most dramatic".

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin slammed political ambitions that he said threatened peace in Europe as he paid tribute to Russian soldiers who died during World War I.

In a deeply symbolic speech mixing the past with the present, the Russian leader said the 1914-1918 war should be seen as a cautionary tale.

"It serves as a reminder of what aggression and selfishness, exorbitant ambitions of heads of state and political elites prevailing over common sense can lead to," Putin said as he unveiled a monument to the slain troops.

Those ambitions, he added, put "the world's most trouble-free continent - Europe" in danger instead of preserving peace.

At Hartmannswillerkopf, Hollande and Gauck also signed a joint declaration on Franco-German friendship, as the foundation stone for the World War II museum jointly conceived by historians from both countries was laid on the ground.

They then stood in silence in front of a monument under which are buried the ashes of some 12,000 unknown French and German soldiers.

Other countries held events on Sunday or were due this week to commemorate the Great War.

In London, an altar cloth embroidered by 138 wounded World War I soldiers was to take its place again at Saint Paul's Cathedral on Sunday.

The frontal, which has not been on display there for seven decades, was embroidered by severely wounded or shell-shocked men from Britain, Australia, Canada and South Africa in memory of their fallen comrades in arms.

(China Daily 08/04/2014 page10)

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