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Leaders gather in Liege to remember outbreak of WWI

Once adversaries, now allies, leaders of Europe have marked the 100-year anniversary of WWI. The lessons of that war still apply to today as aggressors infringe on territorial rights and individual freedoms, they warned.

European leaders gathered in the Belgian city of Liege on Monday to commemorate the outbreak of World War One. On August 4, 1914, Germany invaded Belgium, commencing a war that would last four years and claim the lives of millions.

Each of the speakers - including Belgian hosts King Philippe and Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo and their guests French President Francois Hollande, German President Joachim Gauck and British Prince William - remarked on the miracle of Europe's transformation from a continent of continuous war.

However, their comments soon diverged to current conflicts - such as fighting in eastern Europe and the Middle East- brought to mind by their similarities with the war that left an indelible mark on Europe a century ago.

"Today is the time to be illustrious with actions that we are able to undertake," Hollande.

"Europe should be more [active] because peace is never certain, it demands vigilance," he added, referring in particular to the fighting in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip

German President Gauck echoed these comments, calling on the Europe to demonstrate what it believes "not only through our words, but also through our everyday actions that we have learned our lesson."

Fighting in both conflict zones has claimed several thousand lives over the past few months. The international community has widely criticized Russia for its annexation of Crimea and backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine. The alleged downing of a commerical airliner last month has further alarmed people across the globe and angered Western leaders who have blamed Russia for the incident.

Meanwhile, critics have accused Israel of using excessive force, causing an unacceptably high number of civilian deaths in its bombardment of the Gaza Strip as it seeks to destroy tunnels used by Islamist militants.

A day of commemoration

The commemoration on Monday was to be followed by a separate Belgian-German ceremony later in the day in Leuven, before a memorial service led by British leaders at the St. Symphorien military cemetery in the town of Mons.

Great Britain also planned to hold a centary commemoration in Glasgow Cathedral on Monday, as August 4 also marks the island-nation's entry into World War One.

Battle of Liege

Liege, an industrial hub, became one of Germany's first targets, as it is located just under 50 kilometers (31 miles) from its own border. Despite being outnumbered, the Belgian forces managed to hold off Germany's military for 12 days before the city fell.

A war embraced with widespread enthusiasm on all sides in the late summer of 1914 soon became four years of mayhem and destruction. More than 14 million people lost their lives in the fighting, including four million civilians.

The political wasteland left behind by World War One became the fertile ground for the rise of Nazism in Germany in the decades that followed. It also set events in motion that saw the rise of Communism and the fall of colonialism in the 20th century.

kms/pfd (AFP, dpa)

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