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Old foes mark 50 years of post-war reconciliation

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France and Germany’s leaders met in Reims in northern France Sunday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the two countries’ post-war reconciliation. The meeting was marred however, by news of the desecration of German war graves.


AFP - France and Germany marked 50 years of reconciliation Sunday but the desecration of German war graves marred a meeting of their leaders that could ease tensions on tackling the euro debt crisis.

The vandalism of the graves of 51 German soldiers killed during World War I on the eve of the highly symbolic meeting cast a shadow over the ceremony in Reims in northern France, a region scarred from centuries of war with Germany.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande arrived at the Rheims cathedral, a UNESCO world heritage side extensively damaged by German bombing during World War I, for the event.


They were to unveil a plaque in German commemorating the "Mass for peace" before visiting an exhibition in the nearby Tau palace, also a heritage site, before making separate addresses.

The post-war reconciliation, symbolically achieved in 1962 by then French president Charles de Gaulle and former chancellor Konrad Adenauer, was a milestone, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier.

The pair had shown "courage and foresight" and had swept aside the doubts of many, Merkel said, adding it was "an essential step on the road for a reunited Europe and that is why France and Germany work together."

France and Germany, the eurozone's top economies, have worked closely in recent years as they scramble to solve the debt crisis hammering the single currency.

Observers are watching with interest to see how the relationship develops between the new French president, a centre-left advocate of growth, and Merkel, a centre-right defender of austerity.

The two have locked horns on resolving the crisis with Hollande advocating more spending to boost growth -- a position winning over more adherents in Europe -- while Merkel touts serious belt-tightening.

A major irritant is over a European agreement to create a banking regulator.


Germany seems willing to forsake a significant amount of national sovereignty for a strong euro currency. But France wants more teeth for the leader of the Eurogroup -- an informal body comprising the 17 nations using the euro.

Hollande, in an interview with the French newspaper L'Union Saturday, said it was important for the two countries to work together with other member states to tackle the crisis.

On the eve of the watershed ceremony in Reims, the graves of 51 World War I German soldiers were founded desecrated at a military cemetery some 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of the city.

A local prosecutor said the grave markers had probably been kicked out at the Saint-Etienne-a-Arnes cemetery, which contains the graves of some 12,000 World War I soldiers -- the majority of them German.

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls strongly condemned the vandalism saying: "An enquiry is under way and all means are being employed to find those responsible for this terrible desecration."

According to initial information, the wooden crosses had been pulled up and some used for a camp fire. Several beer bottles were found nearby.

It was not immediately possible to say whether this was a "determined action" or just the work of "irresponsible people", a spokesman at the local prefecture said, adding there were no signs of any political message.

"This is a lowly act, it's unwarranted and stupid violence," Junior European Affairs Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told AFP on Sunday. "On this highly symbolic day, one cannot but be deeply shocked."

Reims was occupied by the Prussians in 1870, devastated by bombings during World War I, and the city where on May 7, 1945, US general Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Allies received the unconditional surrender of the German Wehrmacht.


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