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World leaders in Paris to mark a century since end of WWI

Christian Hartmann, REUTERS | French troops are seen during a commemoration ceremony for Armistice day, 98 years after the end of the First World War at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France November 11, 2016.

World leaders will put on a show of unity on Sunday as they commemorate 100 years since the end of World War I, but modern-day tensions will be bubbling under the surface at the remembrance ceremonies in Paris.


Around 70 world leaders, including US President Donald Trump, Russia's Vladimir Putin, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, and Germany’s Angela Merkel, are due to attend the main centenary ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe.

The WWI commemorations come at a watershed moment for the liberal post-war order, with anti-immigration populists at the helm in the US and Brazil, sharing power in Italy, and making strong gains in Germany, where Merkel has announced her resignation in 2021 after a series of electoral setbacks.

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The ceremony will mark the very hour -- 11 am on November 11, 1918 -- when the guns fell silent after more than four years of slaughter on the Western Front.

Some 10,000 police have been drafted in to ensure maximum security in a city repeatedly targeted by jihadists.

On Saturday evening, the Trumps were among more than 120 guests, including dozens of heads of state and government, who attended a special dinner hosted by Macron and his wife Brigitte at the Orsay art museum in Paris.

Trump had been scheduled to lay a wreath and observe a moment of silence at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial about 60 miles northeast of Paris, but he canceled the visit. The White House cited bad weather that grounded his helicopter.

Earlier, in one of the day's high points, Macron and Merkel unveiled a plaque to Franco-German reconciliation in a forest clearing in northeast France where the armistice ending WWI was signed.

The memorial is doubly symbolic as Adolf Hitler forced the French to return to it on June 22, 1940 to sign their own surrender at the start of World War II.

Macron, sporting a cornflower in his lapel -- the French equivalent to Britain's remembrance poppy -- and Merkel reviewed grey-clad soldiers from the Franco-German brigade, before unveiling a plaque to Franco-German reconciliation.

France and Germany fought three wars between 1870 and 1945.

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Macron, a centrist advocate of open borders and multilateralism, has repeatedly invoked the war in recent weeks to hammer home his message that rising nationalism is again destabilising the world.

Merkel, arriving in Paris, praised Macron's symbolic gesture in inviting her, adding that having "peace today is not a matter of course".

"We have to continue working for it," she said.

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The German chancellor will be first to speak Sunday afternoon at a Forum for Peace which Macron hopes will help foster multilateralism. Putin is expected to attend, Trump is not.

Macron and Trump at their meeting at the Elysee presidential palace downplayed their divisions after a tumultuous start to the weekend, which saw Trump fire off a tweet slamming Macron's proposals for a European army just as his plane was touching down in Paris.

The spat was the latest between the two leaders, who struck up a warm relationship initially but have clashed over a growing list of issues, including Trump's decision to pull the US out of the 2015 Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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