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Europe Marks 70 Years Since Nazi Defeat

  • RFE/RL

French President Francois Hollande (center left) lays a wreath in Paris as part of a ceremony to mark 70 years since victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

French President Francois Hollande (center left) lays a wreath in Paris as part of a ceremony to mark 70 years since victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

Leaders and ordinary citizens across Europe on May 8 are marking 70 years since the defeat of Nazi Germany and end of World War II.

In Paris, the grand boulevard Champs Elysees was closed to traffic to make way for a procession to the Arc de Triomphe, site of France's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius jointly laid a wreath at the tomb.

In Germany, top officials gathered at Berlin's Reichstag parliament building for an hour-long commemoration.

Earlier, in the Polish seaport of Gdansk, where the war started in 1939, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski was joined for remembrance events by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the presidents of Ukraine and other Central European countries.

Komorowski said the 70th annual remembrance of the end of the war applied to soldiers who fought on all sides of the confict. "I wish to commemorate all of the victims of this terrible war," he said, "irrespective of what side of the war barricade they died on."

For Ukraine, it was the first time in 70 years that the country celebrated the end of the war on May 8, and not the day after -- May 9 -- the date formally recognized by Russia. Poroshenko has also ditched the title of "Great Patriotic War," used by Russia, in favor of "World War Two," the name for the war used in most of Europe.

Poroshenko said he wanted to make May 8 a day of reconciliation not just to unite Ukrainians with different views of the war, but also to set them apart from Russia, which Kyiv accuses of stoking a year-old pro-Russian rebellion in its eastern regions.

Alluding to Russia, he told the gathering: "We cannot afford to see history repeated: the annexation and invasion under the pretext of defending ethnic minorities, the temptation of turning a blind eye, the corrosion of European solidarity." He said this could all become the new reality, depending on the choice of Europe.

In the United States on May 8, President Barack Obama saluted the more than 16 million Americans who served with the Allied forces during the war.

He said they "left everything they knew - their families, their homes" to fight on other continents.

Obama also honored the more than 400,000 Americans who died in the conflict.

With reporting by AP and dpa
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