Trudeau among world leaders in Paris marking 100 years since end of WW I

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in Paris along with dozens of other world leaders to mark 100 years since the end of the First World War — with a ceremony this morning led by French President Emmanuel Macron amid grey and damp weather, which seemed aptly fitting when remembering a war fought in mud and relentless horror.

Trudeau arrived Sunday at 10:20 a.m. local time (4:20 a.m. ET)  at the Élysée Palace, where he was greeted by Macron and his wife. ​Michaëlle Jean is also in attendance as the outgoing secretary general of the Francophonie.

More than 70 world leaders with the power to make war but a duty to preserve the peace gathered to mark the end of World War I's slaughter 100 years ago, turning Paris into the epicentre of global commemorations that drove home a powerful message: never again.

The heads of state and government gathered — silent, sombre and reflective — for a ceremony under the Arc de Triomphe at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the mute and powerful symbol of sacrifice to the millions who died from 1914-18.

The traces of this war never went away. The old demons are rising again. We must reaffirm before our peoples our true and huge responsibility.– Emmanuel Macron, France's president

With cellist Yo Yo Ma and the European Union's youth orchestra performing, the leaders heard high school students recalling the joy felt by soldiers and civilians alike when the fighting finally stopped at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918.

"I only hope the soldiers who died for this cause are looking down upon the world today," American soldier Capt. Charles S. Normington wrote on Nov. 11, 1918, in one of the letters. "The whole world owes this moment of real joy to the heroes who are not here to help enjoy it."

Those at the ceremony also heard the commemoration’s host, Macron, warn about the fragility of peace and the dangers of nationalism.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second left, and his wife Sara, left, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Moroccan King Mohammed VI, right, and Crown Prince Moulay Hassan attend ceremonies at the Arc de Triomphe (The Associated Press)

"The traces of this war never went away," Macron said. "The old demons are rising again. We must reaffirm before our peoples our true and huge responsibility."

Macron also said: "Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. In saying, 'Our interests first, whatever happens to the others,' you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: Its moral values."

Trump, ostensibly the main target of Macron's message, sat stony-faced. The U.S. president has proudly declared himself a nationalist.

Commemorations start late

The commemorations started late, overshooting the centenary of the exact moment when, 100 years earlier at 11 a.m., the eerie silence of peace replaced the thunder of guns on the Western France. As bells marking the armistice hour started ringing out across Paris and in many nations hit by the four years of slaughter, all the leaders were still on their way to the centennial site at the Arc de Triomphe.

Under a sea of black umbrellas, a line of leaders led by Macron and his wife, Brigitte, marched in a stony silence on the cobbles of the Champs-Élysées, after dismounting from their buses.

Trump arrived separately, in a motorcade that drove past two topless protesters with anti-war slogans on their chests who somehow got through the rows of security and were quickly bundled away by police. The Femen group claimed responsibility.

Last to arrive was Russian President Vladimir Putin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was positioned in pride of place between Trump and Macron, a powerful symbol of victors and vanquished now standing together, shoulder to shoulder. Overhead, fighter jets ripped through the sky, trailing red, white and blue smoke.

The geographical spread of the leaders in attendance showed how the "war to end all wars" left few corners of the Earth untouched but which, little more than two decades later, was followed so quickly and catastrophically by the even deadlier World War II.

Macron, Trudeau and other leaders came to Paris hoping to use the100th anniversary of the end of the First World War to renew calls to quash festering tensions across the globe.

"There is a general sense and desire among many countries, including Canada, to do whatever is possible to sustain the institutions of the international order and practical, multilateral co-operation. And so you see that in Canada, you see that in Germany," said Roland Paris, Trudeau's former foreign adviser.

"Macron (is) essentially making that point: that we can sustain co-operation, we must sustain co-operation."

Trudeau, who is on a 10-day trip across Europe and Asia, will come face to face with three of the nations sowing some of that tension: Trump, Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Trudeau spoke with Trump at a dinner Macron organized on Friday night, although government officials wouldn't say the exact topic of conversation. Trudeau will also attend summits this week in Asia that Putin and Xi are scheduled to attend.

Reject a 'culture of war,' Pope says

For his part, Pope Francis said from Italy that World War One should serve as a severe warning to reject a "culture of war." 

But Francis observed that the war's lessons have been ignored, saying "it seems we never learn" as he addressed faithful in Vatican City's St. Peter's Square on Sunday. 

The Pope, who often decries the arms industry, added: "Let's invest in peace, not war!" 

Francis noted that the bells of St. Peter's Basilica and of churches worldwide would toll Sunday to mark the 100th anniversary of the war's end. He called the war "a severe admonition for everyone to reject the culture of war and search for every legitimate means to end the conflicts still bloodying several regions of the world." He also quoted the definition of war as "useless slaughter" provided by Benedict XV, who was pope during World War I.

Dignitaries and guests at the official ceremony in Paris weren't the only ones honouring the fallen. On the streets, people from around the world said it was important to honour their sacrifices.

Christopher Federico, a Toronto school teacher, said he was a lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian army reserve and "as a soldier and a veteran, to be able to remember all the soldiers who died in World War I and since, it's obviously very important to me personally and to us as a country."

Paul Thomson of Guelph, Ont., said he was in Belgium to visit the grave of his great-uncle, who was killed in the First World War, so went to Paris as well.

“It’s a good opportunity to look back at what actually happened a hundred years ago and how many people actually died in some pretty grave circumstances,” said Thomson.

Dozens of heads of states and world leaders took part in the solemn ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (The Associated Press)

On the other side of the globe, Australia and New Zealand held ceremonies to recall how the war killed and wounded soldiers and civilians in unprecedented numbers and in gruesome new, mechanized ways.

Those countries lost tens of thousands of soldiers far away in Europe and, most memorably in the brutal 1915 battle of Gallipoli, in Turkey. 

In London, Queen Elizabeth, dressed in black, watched from a balcony in central London as her son Prince Charles laid a wreath on her behalf at the foot of the Cenotaph, a memorial honouring the fallen. The solemn act marked by two minutes of silence was repeated in dozens of towns, cities and villages throughout Britain. Prince William and Prince Harry were among Royal Family members who also laid wreaths. Canada's national ceremony in Ottawa will be held later in the day.

And in Scotland, veterans and members of the armed forces community attended a ceremony at the City Chambers in Edinburgh.

Later Sunday, Trudeau and other leaders will head to a peace summit that Macron hopes to make an annual event.

Remembering Canada's contributions

Kareen Rispal, France's ambassador to Canada, says Trudeau's appearance at the ceremony is a reminder of Canada's contributions during the First World War that aren't always recognized.

Some 650,000 Canadians served in the First World War, and more than 66,000 of them lost their lives. About 172,000 more were injured. Others served behind the front lines, working with locals to aid the war effort.

"We as French, we as Europeans — I think we don't value enough the effort made by the Canadians," Rispal said.

Streets in the centre of the city are blocked off amid heavy security. Plenty of tourists were spotted in line, but many of the shops are closed and normally busy central streets are relatively quiet.

On Saturday, Trudeau thanked Canadian soldiers past and present for their service when he visited the memorial at Vimy Ridge and walked among the tombstones in a cemetery, some of which had names, others marked with simply "a soldier of the great war."

Veterans and those in the military today carry the legacy of those who fought a century ago in the trenches of the First World War, Trudeau said, honouring the memory of all service members who have paid the ultimate price.

“You stand for the values upon which Canada was built, values like democracy, equality, justice and liberty,” Trudeau said. “You risked it all to help the most vulnerable and free the oppressed. You chose to live your life in service of others driven by profound sense of duty and for that, Canadians can never thank you enough.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, third from right, U.S. President Donald Trump, second from left, and some spouses focus on the ceremony in Paris. (The Associated Press)

On Saturday night, night Macron hosted a dinner at the Musee d'Orsay for most of the leaders expected at Sunday's ceremony. It was closed to the media, but a Canadian official speaking on background told reporters that Trudeau spoke to Trump and had a "good interaction" with the president, although no specific topics of that discussion were offered.

Trudeau also spoke with Merkel and Macron during the event.

Defence minister to lead Ottawa ceremony

In Canada, Remembrance Day ceremonies at the national ceremony in Ottawa will be led by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who will be representing Trudeau.

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette will attend alongside Sajjan after her return from Belgium, where she attended additional commemorative events.

Veterans and members of the armed forces community attend a ceremony at the City Chambers in Edinburgh on Sunday. (The Associated Press)

Dominion carillonneur Andrea McCrady will play the bells on Parliament Hill at sunset as part of an initiative organized by the Royal Canadian Legion. Bells will ring out as night falls in one place after another across the country, including at city halls and places of worship, on military bases and ships, and at ceremonies to honour veterans who served during the First World War.

McCrady will play The Last Post on the Peace Tower carillon, followed by striking the largest bell 100 times, at five-second intervals, which represents the moment in 1918 when bells across Europe tolled as the war came to an end.

With files from CBC's Janyce McGregor

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