Obama says D-Day saved world from evil

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama paid homage to the heroes of D-Day on Saturday, saying their assault on Normandy’s beaches exactly 65 years ago had helped save the world from evil and tyranny.

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and France's President Nicolas Sarkozy wave as they arrive at the Prefecture of Caen in France, June 6, 2009. REUTERS/Thierry Chesnot/Pool

Addressing stooped, white-haired veterans, Obama said the Second World War represented a special moment in history when nations fought together to battle a murderous ideology.

“We live in a world of competing beliefs and claims about what is true,” Obama said. “In such a world, it is rare for a struggle to emerge that speaks to something universal about humanity. The Second World War did that.”

His visit to Normandy came at the end of a rapid tour through Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Germany and France, where he has tried to reach out to the Muslim world and press for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Speaking in a giant U.S. military cemetery at Colleville, where 9,387 American soldiers lie, Obama said the war against Nazi Germany laid the way for years of peace and prosperity.

“It was unknowable then, but so much of the progress that would define the twentieth century, on both sides of the Atlantic, came down to the battle for a slice of beach only six miles long and two miles wide,” he said.

The Colleville cemetery, with its rows of white crosses and stars of David, overlooks the Omaha Beach landing where U.S. forces on June 6, 1944, suffered their greatest casualties in the assault against heavily fortified German defenses.

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined Obama at Saturday’s ceremony held under overcast skies -- much better than the winds and rain that marked D-Day.

In his speech, Brown said World War Two did not mark an end to suffering around the globe, and referred specifically to Darfur, Myanmar, Zimbabwe and to poverty and hunger.

“How can we say we have achieved all that we set out to do? The promise of peace and justice?” said Brown, who is fighting for his political life at home. “There are dreams of liberation still to be realized, commitments still to be redeemed.”

In a slip of the tongue that raised smiles, Brown referred to “Obama beach” not “Omaha beach.” He then corrected himself.

Obama has been trying to repair ties with France and other European states that were alienated by his predecessor George W. Bush’s go-it-alone diplomacy, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and his policies on climate change.

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Earlier on Saturday he held talks with Sarkozy, where the two said they were determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Obama also promised an uncompromising stance against North Korea, which tested a nuclear bomb last month.

In his speech, Obama said D-Day showed that human destiny was determined not by forces beyond man’s control but by individual choices and joint action.

On a more personal note, he also saluted his grandfather, Stanley Dunham, who arrived in Normandy a month after D-Day, and his great uncle, Charles Payne, who was present on Saturday and fought in Europe during the war.

It has become a tradition for American presidents to visit Normandy. Ronald Reagan went to the D-Day beaches on the 40th anniversary in 1984, Bill Clinton was there 10 years later and George W. Bush was there in both 2002 and 2004.

“I am not the first American president to come and mark this anniversary, and I likely will not be the last,” said Obama.