TOULON, France (AP) — France paid tribute Friday to Allied troops — including veterans from the U.S. and French colonies in Africa — who landed 70 years ago on Mediterranean shores to liberate French land from Nazi occupation.
The so-called southern landings, involving some 450,000 troops and 881 warships, were launched 10 weeks after the D-Day invasion of Normandy. The two operations squeezed the Nazi occupiers in a pincer and hastening the German defeat and the end of World War II.
After major celebrations June 6 to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day in the presence of world leaders including President Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II, this time French authorities were paying special homage to the tens of thousands African troops recruited by colonizers to fight the Nazis. Fifteen African leaders, some of whom have strained relations with the former colonial power, were invited to Friday's events.
At a ceremony overlooking the Mediterranean port of Toulon, French President Francois Hollande vaunted France's military role around the world.
"France ... is a nation that takes its responsibility to assure the security of Europe but also security in the world, and to act wherever we are asked to act for peace," he said. France has troops in Mali and Central African Republic at the request of local authorities, and started sending arms this week to Kurdish authorities battling extremists in Iraq.
Twenty warships, including the USS Mount Whitney, two British minesweepers, and ships from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, joined a naval parade off the beaches of Provence.
On the evening of Aug. 15, 1944, some 100,000 men landed on the beaches of southern France in an invasion codenamed Operation Dragoon. A total of 450,000 ultimately arrived. The Germans retreated rapidly. The cities of Toulon, Cannes and Marseille were liberated by Aug. 28.
A ceremony dedicated to U.S. troops will take place at the American cemetery of Draguignan on Saturday.
Corbet reported from Paris.