Mon, Nov 05, 2018 - Page 5 News List

France commemorates World War I

REMEMBRANCE AND POLITICS:Emmanuel Macron is to visit Western Front battlefields this week and use his speeches to warn of the rising dangers of a return to nationalism

AFP, PARIS

Re-enactors dressed as World War I New Zealand soldiers yesterday walk in the center of Le Quesnoy, France, prior to a World War I Centenary service at the New Zealand Battlefield Memorial in the town.

Photo: AP

France yesterday began a week of World War I commemorations, with about 80 leaders from around the globe preparing to fly in for a ceremony marking a century since the guns fell silent.

French President Emmanuel Macron is gearing up for a busy week of diplomacy that is to see him play host to leaders including US President Donald Trump and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

He will also be criss-crossing northern France, visiting the battlefields where hundreds of thousands of men lost their lives in the trenches.

Macron will notably use the international spotlight to issue a rallying cry against populism — in the presence of Trump and other nationalist leaders.

The commemorations will culminate in a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Sunday attended by dozens of leaders, including Trump, Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, 100 years to the day since the armistice.

The ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the Champs-Elysees is to be held under tight security following a string of deadly Muslim extremist attacks in France over the past three years.

Remembrance events began yesterday with a concert celebrating friendship between former wartime enemies France and Germany in the border city of Strasbourg, attended by Macron and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Macron is to spend the week visiting the Western Front battlefields, from Verdun to the Somme.

Tomorrow, in honor of the “black army” of former colonial troops who fought alongside the French, he and Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita will visit Reims, a city defended by African soldiers.

British Prime Minister Theresa May will join Macron on the Somme on Friday, while on Saturday he heads to the village of Rethondes, where the armistice was signed, with Merkel.

War commemorations aside, Macron is set to use his tour of northern France to visit areas hit hard by industrial decline, where far-right leader Marine Le Pen performed strongly in last year’s presidential election.

“After paying homage to those who died for their country it will be back to dealing with social and economic problems,” Bruno Cautres of CEVIPOF think tank said.

Macron — who has struggled to shake off an image as a “president of the rich” — will zip through 17 towns, holding Wednesday’s weekly Cabinet meeting in the Ardennes, an area which was battered by the war and today suffers high unemployment.

The 40-year-old president, whose approval rating is languishing at a dismal 21 percent according to a YouGov poll released on Thursday, has dismissed rumors that he is suffering from burn-out.

He sparked rampant speculation by taking a few days off ahead of the tour, which aides have insisted were to gather his energy before an intense week of diplomacy.

This week is an opportunity for the centrist to “reflect a strong presidential image” both at home and abroad, Cautres said.

Macron is set to use his speeches to hammer home warnings of the dangers of nationalism at a time when populists are on the march around Europe and beyond.

In an interview in the Ouest-France newspaper on Thursday, he said Europe risked a return to the 1930s because of the spread of a nationalist “leprosy.”

“I am struck by similarities between the times we live in and those of between the two world wars,” he said. “In a Europe divided by fears, the return of nationalism, the consequences of economic crisis, one sees almost systematically everything that marked Europe between the end of World War I and the 1929 [economic] crisis.”

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