CAEN, France (Reuters) – Seventeen world leaders and thousands of World War II veterans gathered to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy Sunday under blue skies and amid tight security.
The heads of state and government attending the ceremonies in Normandy have underlined the importance of reconciliation as well as remembrance as they prepare for one of the biggest security operations staged on French soil.
Some 30,000 soldiers were deployed in the area around the Normandy beaches and army helicopters patrolled overhead. Combat jets were ready to shoot down any aircraft violating the no-fly zone around the event if requested to do so by Paris.
President Jacques Chirac and President Bush were due to launch proceedings with a joint U.S.-French commemorative event at 9:30 a.m. (0730 GMT).
“I will have an opportunity to say to America and to Americans just how deeply grateful we are to them today,” Chirac said after talks with Bush in Paris Saturday where the two leaders said ties were intact despite France’s opposition to the Iraq war.
Bush responded: “We will also remember the timeless lessons that D-Day teaches, that sacrifices must always be borne in the defense of freedom, that free nations working together can overcome danger…”
They made their pledges even though Bush, who delivers a speech to veterans early Sunday, would welcome more support from France over Iraq.
Chirac, who hosts a lunch for the leaders attending, made his call for reconciliation although relations remain difficult after his opposition to last year’s U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.0