France: 70th anniversary commemorations of D-Day
Since midnight, thousands of people have been commemorating the 70th anniversary of the landing of the Allied troops in Normandy, an event that became the turning point of the Second World War and forecast the ultimate defeat of Nazi Germany. During a nighttime vigil at Pegasus Bridge, the first jump by British paratroopers was commemorated, while on Ohama Beach people waited emotionally for the dawn, the moment when, 70 years ago, the first Allied soldiers stepped onto French soil.
Leading politicians from around the world gathered at the site, including US President Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth II, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. After lunch at a chateau in Bénouville, statesmen including Czech President Miloš Zeman and newly-elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will visit landing beach Sword, where, together with veterans, they will observe a partial reconstruction of the events of 1944 and give speeches.
Several leaders were scheduled to hold bilateral meetings in the morning. Given the tense situation in Ukraine, the most-anticipated results are those of the meeting between Merkel and Putin, which is to be held at Deauville.
The commemorative events began in Normany on Thursday. Just after midnight today a vigil began in the town of Bénouville, where British paratroopers landed in gliders in the early morning hours of 6 June 1944; the conquest of the local Pegasus Bridge was the first tangible success of the Allied operations on that day.
Hundreds of local residents, visitors, and those who witnessed the events of 70 years ago gathered at dawn on Omaha beach. Veterans and current soldiers stood at attention there at 6:30 AM and paid tribute to those who were the first to land on French soil 70 years ago, the Associated Press reports.
Flags were flown at half-mast and a human chain was created on the beach; other events were planned for the morning as well. French President François Hollande headed for Caen after 9 AM, where he honored the 20 000 civilian victims of the battle for Normandy.
"That day, which began with chaos and gunfire, ended in blood and tears, tears of joy and tears of pain after those 24 hours that changed the world and left their mark on Normandy forever," the president said in his speech. Hollande later traveled to the village of Colleville-sur-Mer, where Obama flew by helicopter to join him.
Together they laid wreaths at the cemetery that is the final place of rest for 10 000 Allied soldiers. Prince Charles, UK PM David Cameron, and French PM Manuel Valls paid tribute to fallen soldiers at the cathedral in Bayeux and at the local cemetery where 4 000 members of British forces are buried.
D-Day was the biggest landing operation in military history and marked the beginning of the liberation of Western Europe from Nazism on 6 June 1944. Around 35 000 men landed at Normandy, 3 000 of whom had perished by nightfall that same day.
By the end of July, a total of 1.5 million soldiers had landed on local beaches. The battle of Normandy cost the lives of 44 000 dead on the side of the Allies, 54 000 dead from the ranks of the Germans, and 20 000 French civilians.
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