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Washington (AFP) Nov 11, 2012
US President Barack Obama marked Veterans Day Sunday by celebrating the fact that America's painful decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan is coming to a close.
Under glorious autumn sunshine, Obama placed a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery in memory of all Americans who died while serving in the military, and thanked their grieving families.
Obama praised the post-September 11 generation of soldiers who came forward after the suicide airliner attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in 2001, saying they had "stepped into history" by ousting Iraq's Saddam Hussein, taking on the Taliban in Afghanistan and killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
"Tour after tour, year after year, you and your families have done all that this country has asked -- you've done that and more," he said.
Obama noted his withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq and the gradual drawdown under way from Afghanistan.
"This is the first Veterans Day in a decade in which there are no American troops fighting and dying in Iraq," he said to applause.
And 33,000 US troops have now returned from Afghanistan. The drawdown is expected to be completed in 2014.
"After a decade of war, our heroes are coming home. And over the next few years, more than a million service members will transition back to civilian life," Obama said.
"They'll take off their uniforms and take on a new and lasting role. They will be veterans."
Canadian PM honours war dead in Hong Kong
Harper marked Remembrance Day, an annual memorial day for the war dead that has been observed since the end of World War One in 1918, in the southern Chinese city, one of the first Asian battlegrounds of the Second World War.
The prime minister was on the last stop of an Asian trip, during which he also visited India and the Philippines.
"Of the courageous, desperate and bloody defence of Hong Kong in which badly outnumbered Canadians gave their lives, here they laid nearly three hundred of them," Harper told a solemn crowd of more than 100 at the cemetery.
"By their deaths, they made possible the freedom we enjoy, the democracy by which we govern ourselves and the justice under which we live," Harper said.
Students from local Canadian schools sang songs and laid poppies on pearly white gravestones, some of which bore no names, at the picturesque hillside Sai Wan War Cemetery laden with Canadian flags for the occasion.
A total of 1,505 Commonwealth casualties of World War Two are buried or commemorated at the cemetery where 444 of the graves are unidentified.
Japanese forces on December 8, 1941 attacked the former British colony, which was defended by hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned allied troops from Britain, Canada and India.
The assault came a day after Japan landed what it hoped would be a killer blow on the United States at Pearl Harbour.
Hong Kong surrendered on Christmas day after 18 days of desperate fighting where around 4,000 soldiers from both sides were killed in battle.
About 290 Canadians were among the some 2,100 allied troops killed in the battle. Hundreds of survivors endured years of abuse and starvation as prisoners of war, leading to more than 260 additional Canadian deaths.
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