At the military cemetery near Maastricht, where more than 8000 US soldiers killed during the Allied assault on Nazi Germany are buried, Bush laid a wreath and commemorated Victory in Europe Day (VE Day).

In a speech in front of 10,000 people, including 100 Dutch and American veterans, and in the presence of the Dutch Queen Beatrix, Bush said the world paid a terrible price to achieve victory back in 1945 but was now united in facing down such threats in the world again. 

"Americans and Europeans are continuing to work together and are bringing freedom and hope to places where it has long been denied. In Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Lebanon and across the broader Middle East," he said.

United today

Commemorations have also been taking place in Germany, France and the UK, where the heir to the throne, the Prince of Wales, laid a wreath at the Cenotaph in London. Germany has also been holding a two-day Festival of Democracy, in a sign of reconciliation with former foes.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin greeted fellow leaders ahead of second world war anniversary ceremonies that are taking place in Russia as a tribute to its unrivaled sacrifice in defeating Nazi Germany, but the commerorations have been overshadowed by a row over Moscow's postwar behaviour in Europe. 

"Americans and Europeans are continuing to work together... bringing freedom and hope... in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Lebanon and across the broader Middle East"

US President George Bush 

As Putin closed an informal meeting of most of the heads of the ex-Soviet republics, Bush joined UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Chinese President Hu Jintao among a handful of leaders that arrived later in Moscow to attend Monday's ceremonial events. 
  
Bush and Putin were scheduled to have a private dinner on Sunday evening at the Russian leader's official country residence and officials said the US president would raise questions about democratic progress in Russia. 
  
Diplomatic row

But while the official second world war memorial programme centres on commemorating the Allied victory 60 years ago, angry diplomatic exchanges between former Soviet states has reached fever pitch with Bush's visit to Latvia on Saturday, with leaders of three ex-Soviet Baltic republics demanding Moscow apologise for postwar Soviet occupation of their countries and Putin saying Moscow had done enough already.
  
According to new official figures just published, the Soviet Union lost 26.6 million people in four years of savage fighting with Germany, far more than all other Allied countries combined. And it is the Soviet Union, many historians agree, that deserves the most credit for defeating the Nazis.
  
That is the message that Putin will aim to get across on Monday and it is a message he reiterated again on the eve of the commemorative ceremonies as he dedicated a new war monument on Victory Square near central Moscow.
  
"Our people did not just defend their own homeland - they liberated 11 European states. On the field of battle from the Barents Sea to the Caucasus the aggressor's military machine was broken," the Russian president said.

Seperately, in a television interview broadcast on Sunday, Putin refered to the Iraq issue saying although the war had been a serious mistake, a US withdrawal before the county stabilizes would compound the problem.

"If the United States were to leave and abandon Iraq without establishing the grounds for a united country, that would be a second mistake," he said.

China's commemorations

Japan and China's leaders have
tried to ease tensions

Meanwhile, in the face of simmering Sino-Japanese tension, China is preparing to hold ceremonies to mark the 60th anniversary of the victory of China's anti-Japanese war during the second world war, state media reported today.

Announcing this, the ruling Communist Party of China said that China would host a large commemorative exhibition and seminar.

"All overseas patriots, generals or soldiers of the anti-Japanese war and their families, international friends who helped fight in the war and their families will be invited to attend," Xinhua news agency quoted a party spoeksman as saying.

China will screen commemorative movies and a TV series, print related publications and issue stamps and coins in memory of the victory of the war, it said, without saying whether any Japanese officials were invited to attend.

Continuing tensions

The announcement has come amid lingering tensions over the war, which erupted into unprecedented protests last month in several Chinese cities by demonstrators who accused Tokyo of trying to gloss over abuses and atrocities committed during its conquest of Asia.

Japan invaded China's northeast in 1933 and expanded its control to cover most of the country in the 1940s.

They were eventually defeated when the United States detonated two nuclear bombs in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.