Obama stages a D-Day landing
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On his second visit to France since his election, US President Barack Obama joins his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, at the D-Day commemorations marking the 65th anniversary of the largest single-day amphibious invasion in history.
Sixty-five years after Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, US President Barack Obama will join French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the official D-Day commemorations Saturday in a ceremony that is being billed as a tribute to Franco-US relations.
On his second visit to France since he was elected president, Obama’s primary agenda includes the commemoration of the largest single-day amphibious invasion in history, during which the US military suffered more than 6,000 casualties.
But the visit is also being viewed as a reaffirmation of US-French ties following the strains of the Bush years.
The stage is set for a symbolic diplomatic display of friendship, heralded by Sarkozy’s assertion that his US counterpart will receive an “extraordinary welcome” in France.
Obama’s agenda on Saturday includes visits – along with his French counterpart – to the sprawling Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial located on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, one of the best-known beaches used in the invasion.
The US president will also visit a number of memorials located along the Normandy coastline.
The 7,000-strong guest list at Saturday's ceremony includes US veterans, who will be recognized for their bravery and service, a contribution the “French people will not forget” in the words of Sarkozy.
In France however, Sarkozy’s critics accuse the French president of exploiting Saturday’s event, which happens to fall on the eve of elections to the European parliament.
An intensely televised media appearance with the immensely popular Obama, Sarkozy’s critics charge, will add notches to the hyperactive French president’s international credentials.
The missing queen and a ruckus among war allies
Another contentious issue has been the fracas over the British monarch's “invitation” – or lack thereof – to the D-Day commemorations.
The recent royal storm was sparked by British reports toward the end of May when Buckingham Palace issued a statement that no royals would be attending the ceremonies since they had not been invited.
The issue came to a head when the US uncharacteristically waded into the choppy waters of an Anglo-French diplomatic ruckus. Last week, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs admitted that the Obama administration was working with organisers of the 65th anniversary event to snag an invitation for the queen.
Seized by the British tabloids – with one London daily headline screaming "Palace Fury at D-Day Snub to Queen," – the issue was quickly taken up by French opposition politicians. French Socialist Party spokesman Benoit Hamon accused the French president of being “guilty” of “inelegance” by not inviting the British monarch.
Enter the prince
As officials on either side of the Channel and the Atlantic scrambled on diplomatic damage-control missions, the French government insisted that Queen Elizabeth II was welcome to participate in the events.
Reiterating that it was the British government’s responsibility to decide who would be attending a "primarily Franco-American ceremony," French government spokesman Luc Chatel said, "It is not up to France to determine the British representation."
As the tangle of hurt sentiments and protocol faux-pas threatened to reach farcical proportions, the British government issued a statement welcoming the White House's "helpful" offer to secure the Queen an invitation.
By Monday, however, a spokeswoman for Buckingham Palace had stressed that the Queen would not be attending the commemorations, but denied she was upset about the situation. "We would like to reiterate that we have never expressed any sense of anger or frustration at all, and are content with all the arrangements that are planned," she said.
It was not until late Tuesday that the three quibbling former war allies had apparently reached a compromise: enter Britain’s Crown Prince Charles.
"The Prince of Wales will be attending the commemorations on D-Day in Normandy on the invitation of (French) President (Nicolas) Sarkozy," a spokesman for Clarence House, the prince's official residence, told the AFP news service.
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