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France, Portugal mark centennial of WWI battle

April 9, 2018

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, and Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa lay a wreath of flowers during a World War One remembrance ceremony of the battle of la Lys at the WW1 Portuguese cemetery in Richebourg, northern France, Monday, April 9, 2018. (Pascal Rossignol/Pool via AP)

RICHEBOURG, France (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron and his Portuguese counterpart Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa on Monday marked the centennial of a World War I battle which helped allied nations stop a German offensive in the final year of hostilities.

The two leaders held a ceremony in northern France’s Richebourg, which was at the heart of the battle of the Lys, one of the countless fights where thousands lost their lives for precious little territorial gain.

In 1918, Germany made a major effort to finally make a breakthrough toward Paris and push British forces back to the English Channel. It failed because of the kind of resistance that Macron lauded on Monday.

“In all, 7,000 Portuguese soldiers were killed, wounded or taken prisoner in this one day, the deadliest of the Great War for your people. It made the Battle of the Lys what the Battle of Verdun was for the French,” Macron said, recounting the 1916 French-German battle where the casualties amounted to the hundreds of thousands.

But more than remembering what divided Europe a century ago, Macron sought to connect the past with Europe’s current unity based on a strong Franco-German alliance and a rejection of narrow-minded nationalism.

“And those who think today that we could repeat our history by recreating within Europe tensions, nationalism and tragedy have a sorry memory of all the blood which was spilled,” he said.

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