World leaders, including Nigeria’s President MuhammaduBuhari, gathered under the rain in Paris on Sunday to lead global commemorations marking 100 years since the end of World War I, at a time of growing nationalism and diplomatic tensions.
Around 70 leaders, among whom were the US and Russian Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin marked the centenary of the 1918 Armistice in the French capital at 11 am local time (1000 GMT).
After church bells rang out across France, the leaders sat together at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe for a memorial that included classical music and the reading aloud of letters by WWI soldiers.
Some of the leaders in Paris to mark the centenary of the end of World war 1
French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a nearly 20-minute speech that called on his fellow leaders not to forget the lessons of the past and the hopes of people worldwide for peace.
“Ruining this hope with a fascination for withdrawal, violence or domination would be a mistake for which future generations would rightly find us responsible,” Macron told them.
He added: “Let us build our hopes rather than playing our fears against each other.”
The service concluded with the bugle call that was played at 11 am on November 11, 1918, to signal the end of fighting on the Western Front.
Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who on Saturday poignantly visited the forest clearing in northeastern France where the Armistice was signed, had signaled beforehand that they intended to use the Paris ceremony to warn about the modern-day danger of nationalism.
“This day is not just about remembering, but should be about a call to action,” Merkel said on Saturday.
Merkel will give the opening address alongside UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at a peace conference in Paris following the memorial service on the Champs-Elysees.
The Paris Peace Forum, conceived by Macron, is intended to highlight the importance of international institutions in helping resolve conflicts, avert wars and spread prosperity.
“The aim of the forum is to show that there are lots of forces in the international system — states, NGOs, foundations, intellectuals, companies — who believe we need a world of rules, an open world, and a multilateral world,” chief organiser Justin Vaisse told AFP.
Other attendees of the memorial service and Forum included Turkish President RecepTayyipErdogan, Canadian premier Justin Trudeau, and Israel’s Benyamin Netanyahu, as well as Putin.
Sunday’s ceremony was deliberately international and cross-cultural.
About 70 current-day nations were involved in WWI, which had six empires and colonial powers at its heart: Austria-Hungary, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the Ottoman Empire.
Around 10 million soldiers are estimated to have been killed during the fighting and more than double that number wounded.
Between five and 10 million civilians are estimated to have been killed.