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Thursday, May 14, 1998 Published at 11:11 GMT 12:11 UK

World: Europe

Clinton joins airlift veterans
image: [ The Spirit of Berlin, the plane renamed by President Clinton ]
The Spirit of Berlin, the plane renamed by President Clinton

On the final day of his visit to Germany, Bill Clinton has attended a ceremony at Berlin's Tempelhof Airport to mark the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift.

BBC News' Peter Van Velsen on the morning's events in Berlin
The airlift saw hundreds of flights come into the city every day in an attempt to beat a Soviet blockade of West Berlin at the height of tension between the east and west.

[ image: The leaders both paid tribute to their nations' relationship]
The leaders both paid tribute to their nations' relationship
The US president joined several hundred airlift veterans for a rousing set of celebrations at the airport, which served as the main operating base for the US Air Force as they ferried supplies into West Berlin.

The president said that Berliners described the sound of the planes flying overhead as "a symphony of freedom".

Mr Clinton said: "The most precious cargo did not come in the well-named care packages, it was the hope created by the constant roar of the planes overhead."

Survival link

In a toast on Wednesday evening at a state dinner in his honour, Mr Clinton called the June 1948-September 1949 airlift "the bridge we built together almost 50 years ago."

The western allies made more than 277,000 flights, delivering more than 2.3 million tons of food, fuel and medicine to Berlin.

At the peak of the airlift, aircraft were taking off and landing about every minute.

On May 12, 1949, the Soviets ended the blockade.

In remarks introducing Mr Clinton, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl expressed his country's thanks.

"This city owes its survival and freedom during the Cold War to the firm resolve of the United States and our other western allies," Chancellor Kohl said.

President hails heroes

[ image: The original candyman, Gail Halvorsen]
The original candyman, Gail Halvorsen
Recalling the 38 Britons and 31 Americans who lost their lives in the airlift, Mr Clinton singled out the heroes who came to be known as the "candy bombers".

Gail Halvorsen, an Air Force 1st lieutenant, began the practice of dropping sweets with handkerchief parachutes to the German children watching the landings at Tempelhof.

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