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World Leaders, Veterans Celebrate Victory Day in Moscow

Leaders and veterans from Russia and around the world began arriving in Moscow on Sunday for a series of events ranging from concerts, military parades, street dances and dinners to commemorate the victory over the Nazis 60 years ago.

As part of the Victory Day celebrations, a "Victory train" with World War II veterans aboard pulled in Moscow's Belarus station on Sunday, reviving old memories of the arrival of trains bearing victorious Soviet troops back from the war.

As in 1945, the flower-decorated locomotive bore a big portrait of mustachioed Soviet leader Josef Stalin, who led Soviet Union to victory over the Nazis 60 years ago.

Some 400 veterans, social activists and representatives from social organizations held various forms of celebration aboard the train during its three-day journey from Brest, Belarus, to Moscow.     

The medal-bedecked veterans, who had made a similar long journey home 60 years ago, got a warm welcome at the platform, as a handful waltzed on the square outside the station, where young Russian women in 1940s-era dresses released white doves into the air and wartime songs were played.

At the ceremony held on the square outside the station, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov read a message from Russian President Vladimir Putin thanking the veterans for "saving the world from Nazi enslavement."

"This is a victory for the unity and solidarity of the Soviet people. We should remember and preserve this for ever," the mayor said.

As foreign leaders and war veterans from around the world began arriving in Moscow, the center of the world's Victory Day commemorations, the city is livened up with decorative flags, color lights and flowers.

About 7 million people are expected to attend the concerts, festivities on and around Monday that feature numerous fireworks displays and other entertainment in city parks.

Putin and more than 50 foreign leaders are to lay wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier below the red walls of the Kremlincitadel and watch a military parade on Red Square.

Veterans gathered here for marches, meals and meetings Sunday, reliving old memories and bashed in praise for their role in repulsing the Nazis during the war.

Crowds of Russians cheered veterans who rode military trucks down Moscow's main streets. Foreign veterans shared vodka, caviar and war memories over dinner, and veterans from former Soviet republics met with Putin and other leaders of the ex-Soviet states.     

"For three long years, the Soviet army in fact almost single-handedly battled against fascism," Putin said in an address before a gala concert in the veterans' honor at the Bolshoi Theater.

"Every year, with more emotion and more respect, we bow before your achievement," he said.

The Soviet Union lost an estimated 27 million people in World War II, which Moscow calls the Great Patriotic War, making the Victory Day celebrations one of its most solemn days.

(Xinhua News Agency May 9, 2005)

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