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War veterans commemorate D-Day in France
Updated: 2004-06-05 23:56

Thousands of World War II veterans commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Allied D-Day landings in Normandy on Saturday amid one of the biggest security operations staged on French soil.

A D-Day veteran smiles near Pegasus Bridge at the Caen Canal in Normandy, northern France, June 5, 2004. World leaders and thousands of veterans are gathering in Normandy this weekend to mark the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings. [Reuters]
About 30,000 soldiers were deployed to protect the weekend ceremonies, to be attended on Sunday by 17 world leaders including President Bush and three monarchs.

Anti-aircraft missile batteries, warplanes and helicopters were in the Normandy area of northern France to protect a no-fly zone extending between the ports of Cherbourg and Deauville.

A flotilla of ships set off from Portsmouth harbour in southern Britain for Caen in Normandy, carrying veterans who braved fierce gunfire from Nazi troops to land on the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944.

"Europe is free, whole and peaceful," Bush said during a visit to Italy, remembering events which helped liberate Europe.

He was due to hold talks in Paris with French President Jacques Chirac later on Saturday and attend the Normandy ceremonies on Sunday.

Other leaders attending the Normandy ceremonies will include German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the first German leader to attend a D-Day anniversary in France. President Vladimir Putin will be the first Russian head of state to attend.

A crowd views British landing craft anchored off Arromanches beach June 5, 2004, as they prepare one day ahead, for the reenactment of allied landings as part of activities along the Normandy coast to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the D-Day. U.S. President George W. Bush, heads of state and government, and WW II veterans will attend ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy on June 6, 2004. [Reuters]
Britain's heir to the throne, Prince Charles, watched British and Canadian paratroopers land at the village of Ranville, site of the first D-Day drop in Normandy. He later met some of the survivors of that night drop behind German lines.

A memorial was also be unveiled in Les Mesnil in Normandy to the most senior surviving British officer from D-Day, Brigadier James Hill, now 93.

"The thing that sticks in my heart and mind today just as clearly as it did in those days, was the fact that as we set off the wounded all gave us a cheer," he said. "An hour or two later there was nobody left alive."

A military bugler, resplendent in traditional scarlet jacket and white helmet, played the "Last Post" before a minute's silence during a memorial service aboard the MV Van Gogh, one of many ships heading to Normandy for the celebrations.

Veterans and relatives of those who fought on those beaches cast wreaths into the sea as vintage British landing craft arrived to escort the flotilla into port.

A British Lancaster bomber was due later to drop one million poppies over the ships carrying veterans.

More than one million visitors from across the world were expected to attend the events in Normandy this weekend.

France is on maximum security alert and the air force said that if ordered to do so by Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, combat jets would shoot down any aircraft violating the no-fly zone imposed over the Normandy beaches.

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