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D-Day heroes remembered

Colleville-Sur-Mer, June 6
World leaders today paid poignant tribute to the Allied forces who stormed the Normandy beaches in the D-Day landings 60 years ago to liberate Europe from Nazi occupation.

Amid seemingly endless lines of bright white crosses hung with US and French flags at a US cemetery, US President George W. Bush stood side-by-side with French President Jacques Chirac to honour the thousands who laid down their lives on June 6, 1944.

The landings of more than 135,000 Allied troops amid foul weather on June 6, 1944 were the biggest seaborne invasion in history and triggered the collapse of Hitlerís Third Reich. Another 20,000 men dropped from the skies to aid the capture of five beaches along the coast.

"You will be honoured ever and always," Mr Bush told a large congregation of US war veterans after laying a wreath to the fallen in a ceremony which, unlike the original landings, was bathed in bright summer sunshine. Those who stormed the beaches had witnessed "scenes of daring and self-giving that went beyond anything the army or the country could ask," he said.

Seeking to turn a page on recent transatlantic tensions, Mr Bush and Mr Chirac both drew on the friendship forged on the beaches 60 years ago.

"In the trials and total sacrifice of the war, we became inseparable allies," Mr Bush said in the cemetery above Omaha Beach where the US suffered the heaviest casualties under a torrent of Nazi artillery fire," Mr Chirac said. Mr Chirac said: "The nations that battled across the continent would become trusted partners in the cause of peace. And our great alliance of freedom is strong, and it is still needed today."

"France will never forget. She will never forget that 6th of June, 1944, the day hope was reborn and rekindled."

"She will never forget those men who made the ultimate sacrifice to liberate our soil, our native land, our continent from the yoke of Nazi barbarity and its murderous folly."

The speeches and memories brought tears to the eyes of many of the veterans and relatives as a 21-gun salute and the strains of the Last Post sounded across the huge cemetery where 9,386 US troops have been laid to rest.

The focus of the dayís events was to be an international ceremony at Arromanches, the mid-way point along the 100-km stretch of coastline invaded by the Allied forces that day.

Twenty-two leaders from 16 countries gathered for the event, including for the first time the leaders of Germany and Russia in a further sign of European reconciliation.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder arrived in Caen to join the other leaders for lunch before taking part in most formal ceremony, at Arromanches. His visit has stirred some controversy among veterans, but most people appeared to believed that times had changed and the Germans also had the right to mourn their war dead. ó AFP

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