Shadow of soldier's death lingers as Britain toasts troops

LONDON Sat Jun 29, 2013 3:40pm BST

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LONDON (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Britons celebrated the work of the military on Saturday in the fifth annual Armed Forces Day, with one of the largest events being held near the site in London where a soldier was murdered in broad daylight.

Lee Rigby, a 25-year-old veteran of the Afghan war, was killed last month outside Woolwich barracks in east London. Two men will stand trial in November.

The Woolwich barracks hosted a marching band and military display at the start of celebrations expected to draw around 20,000 people over the weekend.

Fearing possible violence, police banned a planned march there by the English Defence League (EDL), a far-right group that has led an anti-Muslim backlash against Rigby's killing.

The killing of Rigby has bolstered public support in Britain for the armed forces.

"This year's flag raising will be particularly poignant following the awful murder of Drummer Lee Rigby," said London's mayor Boris Johnson as he raised the Armed Forces Day flag in London earlier in the week.

"London's reaction to those events in Woolwich demonstrated the gratitude, esteem and unity of Londoners in support for the men and women of our Armed Services."

Another focal point of Armed Forces Day this year is Nottingham in the English Midlands, where celebrations kicked off with a gun salute and a flypast by military aircraft.

Veterans, serving soldiers and their families were expected to be among the 60,000 people joining Nottingham's celebrations.

"Armed Forces Day is about reminding the British people that everyday, as we go about our business, there are extraordinary men and women all over the world, and indeed right here at home, who risk their lives for our safety and security," Prime Minister David Cameron said in a recorded video message.

On Saturday, Cameron was visiting soldiers in Afghanistan, where 444 British troops have been killed since military action began in October 2001.

(Reporting By Costas Pitas, editing by Gareth Jones)

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