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Daily Archives: November 12, 2008

World marks 90th anniversary of Great War

by Philippe Alfroy*

Europe was to mark yesterday the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I, the last major memorial for its handful of surviving veterans as the conflict slips from memory into history.
Leaders from the powers that fought the war, now allies, were to gather on the site of the 1916 Battle of Verdun, where 300,000 men were slaughtered over 11 months of bloody trench warfare.
Smaller memorials were to be held in towns and villages across Britain, France and the other countries that took part in the disaster.
Far from being "The War to End All Wars", the so-called Great War merely set the tone for the 20th century's litany of brutality, although in terms of sheer mass killing on the battlefield it has rarely been equalled since.
Many conflicts followed but November 11 — the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, when the World War I armistice was signed — has become the moment when the world remembers the dead from all of them.
Yesterday's ceremonies was to be solemn but in some countries a little less personal, with barely a handful of combat veterans from World War I still alive.
In London, Britain's acts of remembrance were to be led by three of the country's last four surviving veterans of the five million people who served during World War I.
At exactly 11:00am (1900 Macau time), Henry Allingham, 112, Harry Patch, 110 and Bill Stone, 108, health permitting, were to lead a two-minute silence at The Cenotaph national war memorial in central London.
They were to represent the armed service they belonged to — the Royal Air Force, the Army and the Royal Navy respectively.
Erich Kastner, the last of the German troops, died on January 1 this year, aged 107. The last French veteran, Italian-born legionnaire Lazare Ponticelli, survived him by only two months, dying on March 12 aged 110.
Yesterday's ceremonies placed a firm emphasis on reconciliation with France, Britain and Germany now firm allies within the European Union.
But, as France's minister for veterans' affairs Jean-Marie Bockel said last week: "Reconciliation is not forgetting. To forget would be the worst thing."
"Now that the last veteran has gone, 90 years on we once more share a moment of awareness. This war is part of our collective memory, and he who does not know his past has no future," he said, inaugurating a memorial.
In 1917, after three years of bloody conflict in Flanders and on the Somme, the United States intervened on behalf of Britain and France, and brought with them ambulance driver Frank Buckles, now 107 and living in West Virginia.
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, Britain's Prince Charles, the speaker of the German parliament Peter Muller and Australia's Governor General Quentin Bryce were due to attend the ceremony at Fort Douaumont, epicentre of the Battle of Verdun.
Afterwards, Sarkozy will visit the nearby German cemetery.
Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown was to attend the ceremony in London at the same site where Queen Elizabeth II led national tributes on Sunday.
Between 1914 and 1918, among the major belligerents, Germany lost 1.9 million troops, Russia 1.7 million, France 1.4 million, the Austro-Hungarian empire a million and Britain 760,000.



Obama, Bush discuss world of challenges

by Olivier Knox*

US president-elect Barack Obama, on his way to his historic January 20 swearing-in, held his first face-to-face talks with President George W. Bush Monday and came away impressed with the Oval Office.
Bush and Obama, who routed the incumbent's fellow Republican and chosen successor John McCain in the November 4 election, met privately for about an hour in the chamber from which the US president makes world-shaping decisions.
Obama and wife Michelle Obama had arrived about 10 minutes early for their two-hour visit and got a warm welcome from Bush and First Lady Laura Bush at the mansion's South Portico, a gateway to the mansion for many world leaders.
As their wives took a tour of the 132-room White House's residential areas, the 43rd president and his successor strolled along the Rose Garden and into the Oval Office, Obama's first ever visit to the storied seat of power.
Bush guided Obama into the room for private, one-on-one talks 71 days before the Democrat formally becomes the first black US president and inherits two wars and a global economic crisis that some compare to the Great Depression.
Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president-elect, who has a keen sense of history, was impressed with his first-ever visit to the Oval Office.
"What he said to me is it's a really nice office," said Gibbs who said the present and future presidents met alone without notetakers then joined their wives to tour the residential quarters.
Before Obama left the White House, they returned to the Oval Office, Gibbs said and put the politics of the campaign — where the Democrat lashed Bush repeatedly — in the past.
"Nothing but cooperation and graciousness on the part of the administration," he said, characterising the meeting.
Bush described the talks as "good, constructive, relaxed and friendly," said spokeswoman Dana Perino.
"They spoke about both domestic and international issues, though since it was a private meeting the White House will decline to comment on specifics."
Bush also showed Obama the living quarters at the White House, including the office the president uses, the famed Lincoln Bedroom, and the rooms for Obama's two young daughters, said Perino.
"The president enjoyed his visit with the president-elect, and he again pledged a smooth transition to the next administration," said the spokeswoman.
Obama for his part thanked Bush "for his commitment to a smooth transition and for his and First Lady Laura Bush's gracious hospitality in welcoming the Obamas to the White House," said transition spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter.
The "productive and friendly" talks focused on efforts to ensure a smooth transition given the economic and national security challenges at hand, she said in a statement.
Laura Bush showed Michelle Obama around the residential section and talked about raising children in the White House, with the First Lady sharing her experience with twin daughters Jenna and Barbara, said Cutter.
Obama's young girls, Sasha, 7 and Malia, 10, will be the youngest children living in the presidential mansion in a generation.
The Obamas flew in from their hometown of Chicago for the rite of passage, a highly symbolic step in the first US presidential transition since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and flew back shortly after.
With Bush and Laura Bush standing outside on the sunny but chilly day, Obama's armored limousine pulled up and the 44th president got out first, then helped Michelle Obama, who was wearing a bright red dress, out of the vehicle.
The carefully choreographed political truce came as Obama's advisers pored over eight years of Bush decisions with an eye on reversing course, including on curbs on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and moves to open new lands to oil drilling.
The two leaders had been expected to talk about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the November 15 summit in Washington on the global economic meltdown — though Obama was not expected to take part.
The Monday meeting came sooner after the election than usual, and far earlier than Bush's own similar talks with then-president Bill Clinton, which had to await a Supreme Court ruling that ended the botched 2000 election.