France's last WWI veteran dies and receives honors

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President Nicolas Sarkozy led a national ceremony in Paris on Monday in honour of the last French veteran of World War I, Lazare Ponticelli, who died last week aged 110.

Italian-born Ponticelli, the last of more than eight million men who fought under French colours in the 1914-18 war that tore Europe apart, died on Wednesday at his home in a Paris suburb.

State officials across France held a minute of silence, and flags flew at half mast on public buildings for the ceremony led by Sarkozy and his predecessor Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister Francois Fillon and Italian Defence Minister Arturo Parisi.

The president laid a wreath in honour of the war's 8.5 million "poilus," the affectionate nickname meaning hairy or tough that had been given to French foot soldiers since Napoleonic times but became associated with World War I.

Germany's last veteran from World War I also died in January this year. There are now just nine living veterans worldwide of the conflict which France, Britain, Russia and later the United States, eventually won against Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Turkish-led Ottoman Empire.

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