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WWI marked at Verdun battlefield

France has too many memorial services says report, as Sarkozy breaks with Arc de Triomphe traditional wreath laying.

TODAY’S Armistice Day, marking 90 years since the end of WWI, will be the first to be commemorated by a French president outside of Paris and the first without a surviving veteran of the Great War.

President Sarkozy will break with the tradition of laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and take part in a Remembrance Day service at Ossuary of Douaumont in Verdun where the names of 130,000 soldiers who were indentified on the fields are marked.

He will briefly lay a wreath by the statue of WWI Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau.

At the ceremony he will be joined by the Prince of Wales and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall and the leaders of 12 other countries – Germany’s Chancellor Merkel however will not attend.

The president is expected to give a speech on European reconciliation on the site where up to 300,000 soldiers were killed during the 300-day battle.

It will be the first Armistice Day since the death of the last survivor of the Great War in France, Lazare Ponticelli, who died on March 12 this year aged 110.

France’s 12 commemoration services should be almalgamated into three key dates covering all types of conflict, a report ordered by the Elysée has stated.

Nearly half were created by Jacques Chirac including those for the Justes de France (those who looked after Jews under The Occupation) on July 16; the Harkis (Algerian Muslims who served in the French Army during the Algerian War) on September 25; the dead of the First Indochina War on June 8 and the Algerian War on December 5 and a celebration of the abolition of slavery on May 10.

The report, produced by French historian André Kaspi proposed three dates: November 11 for Armistice Day, May 8 for Victory in Europe and July 14 for Bastille Day (known in France as La Fête Nationale).

Other dates could be reduce to local ceremonies or to special events such as the 60th anniversary of the Normandy Landings.

“It is not good that in the space of half a century the number of commemorations has doubled. It is unacceptable that the nation bows to the interests of different communities and multiplies the number of ‘days of repentance’ to satisfy one group of victims,” said the report, which was seen by Le Figaro.

It added that the increasing number of services served to dilute the act of commemoration. The report will be officially presented to President Sarkozy tomorrow.

The move to consolidate the services is opposed by the Secretary of State for Veterans Jean-Marie Bockel who said there was no question of moving towards a “French Memorial Day” and added: “All the dates are important.”


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