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World War I

One hundred years on, leaders remember outbreak of WWI

European leaders are to commemorate the outbreak of WWI, which began with the German invasion of Belgium on August 4, 1914. The first event of the day takes place in the city of Liege, where the first battle took place.

On Monday, European leaders and royalty were to gather in Belgium, whose soil became the first battleground of World War One.

The assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 by a Serb nationalist set into a motion a chain of events that resulted in diplomatic chaos. Europe's empires found themselves entangled in complicated military alliances which forced them to take sides once Germany declared war on France on August 4. It invaded Belgium the next day.

The four years of bloodshed that followed left an indelible mark on all who were involved. One hundred years later and eyewitnesses long gone, descendents of the first actors in the war - Germany, Belgium, France and England - gathered in remembrance.

Events were scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. local time (0800 UTC) in the eastern city of Liege, where the war's first major battle took place over the course of 12 days following the German invasion.

Following a speech by Belgium's King Philippe, both the French and the German presidents - Francois Hollande and Joachim Gauck - were to deliver addresses. The United Kingdom's Prince William and Belgium's prime minister, Elio Di Rupo, were also scheduled to speak at Monday's event.

A separate Belgian-German ceremony was scheduled to take place later in the day in Leuven, followed by a memorial service led by British leaders at the St. Symphorien military cemetery in the town of Mons.

Great Britain also planned to hold a centary commemoration in Glasgow Cathedral on Monday, as August 4 also marks the island-nation's entry into World War One.

Battle of Liege

Liege, an industrial hub, became one of Germany's first targets, as it is located just under 50 kilometers (31 miles) from its own border. Despite being outnumbered, the Belgian forces managed to fight back Germany's military for 12 days before the city fell.

A war embraced with widespread enthusiasm on all sides in the late summer of 1914 soon became four years of mayhem and destruction. More than 14 million people lost their lives in the fighting, including four million civilians.

The political wasteland left behind by World War One became the fertile ground for the rise of Nazism in Germany in the decades that followed. It also set events in motion that saw the rise of Communism and the fall of colonialism in the 20th century.

kms/pfd (AFP, dpa)

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