Cold rain and grey skies mirrored the sombre mood of world leaders commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War in Paris on Sunday, in a reminder of the atrocious conditions endured by troops.
In a show of unity, more than 60 presidents, prime ministers and dignitaries, many of them holding black umbrellas, walked the last few yards to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe, after arriving in a fleet of buses.
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, said the grim weather was fitting for an occasion that was not a celebration of victory but a ceremony marking the end of four years of horrific bloodshed.
Donald Trump, the US president, who was criticised the previous day for cancelling a scheduled visit to a US military cemetery because of rain, arrived after the others in his armour-plated limousine, the “Beast”, because of security concerns. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, also arrived separately a few minutes later.
Mr Macron delivered a politically-charged speech warning of the dangers of rising nationalism and praising the European Union and the United Nations for their contribution to peace.
Afterwards he said he was delighted that so many world leaders had attended, but questioned whether the occasion would be remembered as “a symbol of lasting peace or the last moment of unity before world falls into disorder. That depends on us.”
Warning the assembled leaders that re-emerging “old demons” were to threaten peace, he said: “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism.
“Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism.”
Mr Trump, who has proudly declared himself a nationalist, sat stony-faced, but smiled broadly as he exchanged a handshake with Mr Putin, who flashed him a thumbs-up sign.
The US president’s cordiality towards his Russian counterpart – despite alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US election – has alarmed western European leaders who see Russia as a growing threat.
Feminist activists from the Femen group broke through the security cordon and staged a brief topless protest near Mr Trump’s car before being dragged away by police.
Despite a plea by Mr Macron for a strong EU, Europe’s deep political divisions were underscored by an independence day celebration in Warsaw, in which the Polish president and prime minister marched with far-Right groups for the first time.
The Paris event produced some unlikely pairings. It was attended by the presidents of both Serbia and Kosovo, which are struggling to normalise relations nearly 20 years after a Nato bombing campaign ended the conflict in Kosovo and paved the way for its independence from Serbia.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, spoke to Mr Putin for the first time since a Russian plane was shot down in Syria during an Israeli air strike.
French commentators criticised the lack of high-level British representation in Paris. Franck Ferrand, an author and broadcaster, said it was regrettable that “no British leader or member of the Royal Family has chosen to attend”.
The UK was represented by David Lidington, the de facto deputy prime minister and Minister for the Cabinet Office.
Before Mr Macron spoke, teenagers read out letters written by First World War soldiers on the day the bloodshed ceased. One of them, from British officer Charles Neville of the Royal Horse Artillery, described streets “packed with wildly cheering civilians, chucking flowers at us and carrying on only like a foreigner can”.
After the ceremony and lunch at the Elysée Palace, dozens of leaders attended the inaugural meeting of the International Peace Forum, intended by Mr Macron to promote multilateral cooperation to resolve conflicts.
Mr Macron told the gathering that the allies had won the war, but not the peace, as they had failed to prevent the Second World War.
Mrs Merkel denounced the “national vaingloriousness and military arrogance” that led to the “senseless bloodshed” of two world wars.
Mr Trump did not attend the session, instead visiting a US military cemetery in Suresnes, western Paris, where he paid tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of French and American soldiers, before flying home.
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