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22 May, 2002
Celebrations marking the 61st anniversary of the Battle of Crete opened Monday night on the island, with the inauguration of a photograph exhibition, and attended by 90 veterans of the Battle from Britain and 10 from Australia and New Zealand.
The commemorative events, which will culminate on May 26, include memorial services, speeches and exhibitions.
In a message, Prime Minister Costas Simitis said that, in contemporary world history, the Battle of Crete has a place as one of the brightest and earth-shaking moments and exuded a timeless and human message that remained timely today. "A strong message of resistance against those who render armed violence as the chief element of their policy in order to achieve their unlawful aspirations, and against those who blatantly violate human rights and individual liberties, shaming the dignity of the citizen".
That was why the Cretans' fervent belief in the human values proved that there were limits to what some fatalistically called the "right of the powerful", Simitis said.
In our day, he added, the Battle of Crete could not but express the vision for a Mediterranean of cooperation and development, of respect for the culture of each peoples and their national independence.
In a message, New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark noted that the Battle of Crete was an earth-shaking event, but it also forged friendships between two peoples who lived in opposite corners of the world.
"Let us hope that we will confront any provocations arising in the future with the same courage, determination and strength of heart displayed by the men and women during the Battle of Crete, she added.
In his own message, Australian prime minister John Howard said that the respect and tender feelings that developed between the Australians and Cretans during that period had created strong bonds between Greece and Australia, bonds that were further strengthened by the two peoples' and countries' common values for a strong, free and stable democracy and by the close relationship between the two peoples via the Greek-Australian community, which he called a bridge between the two peoples.
The Battle of Crete took place in May 1941 when Australian, New Zealand, British and Greek forces that had retreated to the island of Crete fought alongside the local population against the invading Nazi forces. Crete was the last part of Greece to come under German occupation, and losses were heavy on both sides during the famous battle, in which Germany deployed the largest number of paratroopers in World War II.
It is considered one of the most crucial battles of World War II, as it delayed the German attack on Russia long enough for the Wehrmacht to be caught in the Russian winter.
Source: Athens News Agency