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Ceremonies Held Worldwide to Mark End of WWII

Leaders of the United States and European countries joined various memorial events Sunday marking the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory that ended World War II on the European continent.

US President George W. Bush and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands laid a wreath at a cemetery in the southern Dutch town of Margraten where more than 8,000 US soldiers were buried.

"We recommend ourselves to the great truth that they defended, that freedom is the birthright of all mankind," Bush said in tribute.

In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac laid flowers on the tomb of the unknown soldier under the Arc de Triomphe and best owed medals on several deportees.

In London, Prince Charles placed a wreath of blood-red poppies at the Cenotaph memorial in honor of some 260,000 Britons who died fighting Nazi Germany and its allies.

He later joined veterans and serving cavalrymen in a march through Hyde Park.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recalled his personal experiences and the deep scars the war had left on his family.

During an interview with Russia's NTV channel, Putin described how memories of the war shaped his early life, particularly since his grandmother was killed in a shooting incident and an elder brother died of disease.

His mother nearly died of starvation during the 900-day siege of Leningrad, said the president.

Swiss President Samuel Schmid paid tribute to the Swiss veterans who were mobilized during the war to combat any possible invasion of the country.

Schmid acknowledged a "difficult" period in Switzerland's history during the war when the country "unfortunately" turned away thousands of refugees, including Jews who were trying to escape Nazi Germany.

The Swiss leaders at that time were "confronting a difficult situation" while Switzerland was entirely surrounded by the German army and its allies, he said.

German President Horst Koehler said in Berlin that Germany must keep alive the memory of the horror of the war brought about by its Nazi leaders.

"We have the responsibility to keep alive the memory of the agony and its causes, and we must ensure that it never returns. There is no closure," Koehler said in a speech to a special session of the lower house of parliament.

"We Germans remember with horror and shame the Second World War unleashed by Germany and the Holocaust, this breakdown in civilization, for which Germans are responsible, " he said. "We remember the 6 million Jews who were killed with a fiendish energy."

In north Austria, more than 20,000 people from Austria and 51 other countries gathered Sunday at the Mauthausen concentration camp to mark the 60th anniversary of the Nazi defeat in World War II.

The ceremony began when the gate of the Mauthausen camp reopened at midday Sunday, in a symbolic reenactment of the liberation by Allied troops on May 5, 1945.

Survivors, veterans, representatives of various countries and members of youth groups filed into the central square of the camp and laid wreathes in honor of the 100,000 victims of the largest Nazi concentration camp in Austria and its 49 subsidiaries.

Austrian President Heinz Fischer delivered a speech at the ceremony and thanked the Allies for their help. He said such evil must never again be allowed to happen, recalling that half of the prisoners in Mauthausen did not survive.

"Remembrance must serve as a bulwark against evil," Fischer said.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the only foreign leader present at the gathering, said: "Our task is to ensure that the children of our children will not forget this barbarism."

"Never again the horror of totalitarianism, of war and of fascism," added Zapatero.

(Xinhua News Agency May 9, 2005)

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