An embrace and clasped hands as Macron and Merkel mark WWI end






Paris - French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday marked the centenary of the armistice that ended World War I by unveiling a new message of peace.

The leaders of the two wartime rivals made an unprecedented joint visit to the forest clearing in northern France where the armistice that ended the war was signed just one day short of 100 years ago.



 
There, they unveiled a plaque lauding Franco-German reconciliation "in the service of Europe and of peace."
It was fixed on the base of a monument that still bears an older, more triumphalist message boasting of victory over "the criminal pride of the German empire."
The location was at once a historically fraught one and a powerful symbol of peace: In 1940, Hitler insisted that France sign its World War II surrender to Germany on the same spot.
After unveiling the new inscription, Macron and Merkel embraced briefly and then stood in silence as the French army's bugle call for the dead rang out, followed by the two countries' national anthems.
A childrens' choir completed the ceremony with a hymn to peace set to the European anthem, Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" - the same air that Macron chose to open his victory speech after being elected to the French presidency last year.
The two leaders then visited a replica of the railway carriage in which the 1918 armistice and the 1940 surrender were both signed.
Seated at a table identical to the one where the delegations had sat on those occasions, they signed a visitors' book and held hands tightly for a moment before returning outside to greet participants in the ceremonies.
Asked by a teenager what message they intended to convey, Macron drew a link between the destruction of the war and the later construction of the European Union involving France and Germany.
"It's to show that what we owe to the fallen soldiers, to those young men who were the same age as you or a few years older, and died in their millions in barbarity, [that] what we owe them is to continue untiringly building peace," Macron told the girl.
"Our Europe has been at peace for 73 years. That is unprecedented," he said, adding: "And it's at peace because we wanted that. And most of all because Germany and France wanted that."
The event at the clearing near Compiegne, close to the front lines of the 1914-1918 conflict, is only one in a series of centenary events that will see some 65 world leaders gather in Paris.
Earlier Saturday, Macron received US President Donald Trump at the Elysee Palace.
The two men spoke briefly to press, endeavouring to smooth over an angry tweet Trump had fired off shortly after arriving in Paris the night before in which he objected to Macron's proposals for a European army.
Macron said his aim was better "burden-sharing" within the Western military alliance NATO, and Trump insisted that the two leaders had "much more in common.... than people would understand."
Trump's scheduled visit to a US cemetery outside Paris was cancelled due to "logistical difficulties caused by the weather," the White House said. It was a rainy day across much of northern France.
On Sunday, the actual anniversary of the armistice, world leaders including Macron, Merkel, Trump and Russia's Vladimir Putin will attend a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe.
Unlike most of the other leaders, Trump will not be staying on for a peace forum that Macron has summoned, which opens on Sunday afternoon.
World War I pitted an alliance that included Britain, France, Russia, and later Italy and the US, against the Central Powers including Austria-Hungary, Germany and the Ottoman Empire.
In total, some 40 countries were involved in the conflict. Around 9 million soldiers were killed along with millions of civilians.

Saturday, November 10th 2018
(dpa)
           


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