Hollande inaugurates unique memorial to end WWI commemorations
PARIS - Agence France-Presse
French president Francois Hollande lays a wreath at the Georges Clemenceau's statue on the Champs Elysees, on November 11, 2014 in Paris, as part of the Armistice Day ceremonies marking the 96th anniversary of the end of World War I. AFP PhotoFrench President Francois Hollande on Tuesday wraps up months of commemorations of the centenary of World War I with the inauguration of a unique memorial carrying the names of nearly 600,000 fallen soldiers of all nationalities.
France has been at the forefront of global events marking the devastating 1914-1918 conflict, during which 10 million troops and millions of civilians died and another 20 million were injured.
After traditional celebrations of Armistice Day on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, Hollande was due to travel to the Notre Dame de Lorette military cemetery in northern France to inaugurate the "Ring of Remembrance" carrying the names of 579,606 soldiers who fell in the area's battlefields -- allies and enemies, French, British, or German.
"New generations must understand that the fight for peace is never over," Hollande said in an interview with local daily Le Voix du Nord, pointing to the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s, the current crisis in Ukraine and the Islamic State jihadists occupying parts of Iraq and Syria.
According to Le Monde daily, Hollande had invited German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron to the inauguration, but both declined to come and will be represented at a ministerial level.
The memorial carries the names of soldiers from some 40 countries engraved in alphabetical order on 500 gold steel plates set in a huge ellipse in the green countryside next to the cemetery.
The names of more than 241,000 British soldiers, most of whom were buried in some 800 cemeteries in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, over 173,800 Germans and 106,012 French are engraved on the memorial.
Hollande said the inauguration aims to be "a profoundly human gesture as well as a message of hope... for all those who today fight so that peace and law triumph everywhere in the world."
The inauguration wraps up months of commemorations in France of what has become known as the Great War.
The country's annual Bastille Day military parade in Paris on July 14 was attended by soldiers from around 70 nations once involved in one way or another in World War I, including Britain, Japan and Germany.
And on August 3, Hollande and his German counterpart Joachim Gauck paid emotional tributes to the millions of soldiers who died, exactly 100 years after Germany declared hostilities against France.