French, German leaders pay tribute to WWI fallen
By Hervi Asquin, AFP
August 4, 2014, 12:04 am TWN
HARTMANNSWILLER, France -- French President Francois Hollande and his German counterpart Joachim Gauck paid emotional tributes Sunday to the millions of soldiers who died during World War I, exactly 100 years after Germany declared hostilities against France.
The two leaders gathered at Hartmannswillerkopf where 30,000 soldiers lost their lives in fierce battles around the mountain peak known as the "man-eater" in France's Alsace region near the border between the two countries.
In a speech lauding as "an example for the world" the friendship between two countries that were once fierce enemies, Hollande remembered conflicts still raging around the world, including the confrontation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza that has claimed over 1,800 lives.
"France and Germany, beyond their suffering and bereavements, had the courage to make up — it was the best way to honor the dead and provide a guarantee of peace to the living," he said.
Their friendship is "an example for the world, a strength and an invitation, wherever peace is threatened, wherever human rights are violated, wherever the principles of international law are flouted.
"All efforts must be made to impose, today more than ever, a ceasefire in Gaza and end the suffering of civilian populations," he added in a speech that also touched on the Ukrainian crisis and the plight of Christians in Iraq where jihadists hold swathes of territory.
'Absurdity and horror'
Standing near the bucolic peak of Hartmannswillerkopf, Gauck reminded onlookers that the site "symbolizes the absurdity and horror of those years."
"We commemorate the dead, the missing, the injured on both sides, and we honour their memory. They are not forgotten," he said.
The symbolism of the event was all the stronger as Aug. 3, 1914 "opened a period of 30 years of conflicts, bitterness, massacres and barbarity between France and Germany," the French presidency said in a statement.