The Latest: Hollande, Merkel attend WWI battle ceremony

VERDUN, France (AP) — The Latest on the ceremonies commemorating the Battle of Verdun in World War I (all times local):

5:30 p.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande are attending a ceremony at the Douaumont ossuary, a 46-meter (151-foot) tower holding remains of 130,000 unidentified French and German soldiers.

To the sound of drums, about 4,000 French and German children ran into the nearby cemetery, in a choreography conceived by German filmmaker Volker Schloendorff. They re-enacted battlefield scenes amid 16,000 white crosses marking the graves, before falling on the ground in an evocation of death. Then they got back up as a symbol of hope.

Merkel and Hollande met with some of the children. To a teenager saying his ancestor had been gassed during World War I, Hollande explained to him that the “same gas” was recently used in Syria, in a reference to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2013.

The German and French leaders entered into the ossuary to observe a moment of silence.


1:05 p.m.

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have traveled to Verdun, to honor the martyred city in eastern France that was almost entirely in ruins at the end of World War I.

In a speech at city hall, Merkel says “Verdun is the more than the name of your town — Verdun is also one of the most terrible battles humanity has experienced.”

She describes Hollande’s invitation to join in the centenary of the 1916 Battle of Verdun as “a great honor.” She says “we are all called upon to keep awake the memory (of Verdun) in the future, because only those who know the past can draw lessons from it.”

Hollande praises the city of Verdun as “the capital of peace.”

The French leader says “Verdun is a city that represents — at the same time — the worst, where Europe got lost, and the best, a city being able to commit and unite for peace and French-German friendship.”


11:50 a.m.

The leaders of France and Germany are commemorating the centenary of the longest battle of World War I.

Francois Hollande of France welcomed Angela Merkel of Germany on Sunday under heavy rain at the German cemetery of Consenvoye, near Verdun in eastern France, which was covered in mist and clouds.

The 10-month Battle of Verdun in 1916 killed 163,000 French and 143,000 German soldiers and wounded hundreds of thousands of others.

Sunday’s ceremony started 45 minutes late since both leaders came by car instead of helicopter due to bad weather. They laid a wreath, accompanied by four German and French children. They then walked side by side for few minutes in the cemetery where 11,148 German soldiers are buried, sharing an umbrella.


11 a.m.

France’s president and Germany’s chancellor want their countries’ improbable friendship to be a source of hope for today’s fractured Europe as they commemorate the centenary of the longest battle of World War I.

In solemn ceremonies Sunday in the forests of eastern France, Francois Hollande of France and Angela Merkel of Germany are marking 100 years since

Between February and December 1916, an estimated 60 million shells were fired in the battle. One out of four didn’t explode. The front line villages destroyed in the fighting were never rebuilt. The battlefield zone still holds millions of unexploded shells, making the area so dangerous that housing and farming are still forbidden.

With no survivors left to remember, the commemoration now focuses on educating youth about the horrors and consequences of the war. Some 4,000 French and German children will take part in Sunday’s events, which conclude at a mass grave where in 1984, then-French President Francois Mitterrand took then-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s hand in a breakthrough moment of friendship and trust by longtime enemy nations.