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Teenage climate campaigner Thunberg honoured in France

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Freedom prize

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, flanked by WWII veteran and native American Charles Norman Shay (R), sponsor of the Freedom Award, and French WWII veteran Leon Gautier, poses with the Normandy 'Freedom prize' during the award ceremony (AFP Photo/JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER )

Caen (France) (AFP) - Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage activist whose Friday school strikes protesting government inaction over climate change helped sparked a worldwide movement, received the Freedom Prize in France on Sunday.

Flanked by two WWII veterans who sponsor the prize, she accepted the award at a ceremony in the northwestern city of Caen, Normandy.

"This prize is not only for me," Thunberg said. "This is for the whole Fridays for Future movement, because this we have achieved together."

She said she would donate the 25,000 euro ($28,000) prize money to four organisations working for climate justice and helping areas already affected by climate change.

The prize was awarded before an audience of several hundred people and in the presence of several WWII veterans, including France's Leon Gautier and US native American Charles Norman Shay. Both are sponsors of the prize.

Thunberg said she had spent an unforgettable day with Shay on Omaha Beach, one of the sites of the 1944 Normandy landings that launched the Allied offensive that helped end World War II.

Paying tribute to their sacrifice, she said: "The least we can do to honour them is to stop destroying that same world that Charles, Leon and their friends and colleagues fought so hard to save for us."

Shay said that young people "should be prepared to defend what they believe in and how they want to live in their life and their country.

"As a soldier, I fought for freedom and to liberate Europe and the world from Nazism 75 years ago," he added. "But this is a nonsense if Mother Nature is deeply wounded and if our civilisation collapses due to inappropriate human behaviour.

"I'm deeply happy that you and the young generation fight for this noble cause," he told Thunberg.

Describing the challenges posed by climate change, Thunberg said: "Seven million people die from illness related to toxic air pollution every year.

"This is a silent war going on. We are currently on track for a world that could displace billions of people from their homes, taking away even the most basic living conditions from countless people, making areas of the world uninhabitable from some part of the year.

"The fact that this will create huge conflicts and unspoken suffering is far from secret.

"And yet the link between climate and ecological emergency and mass migration, famine and war is still not clear to many people. This must change."

The Freedom Prize was set up to honour the values embodied by the Normandy landings. Its winner is chosen by a worldwide online poll of respondents aged between 15 and 25.