France thanks WWII allies for S France liberation

16th August 2004, Comments 0 comments

ON BOARD THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER CHARLES DE GAULLE, France, Aug 15 (AFP) - Military vessels and aircraft streamed along France's Mediterranean coastline Sunday in an impressive ceremony commemorating World War II Allied landings in the region 60 years ago that proved a follow-up to the D-Day landings in Normandy.

ON BOARD THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER CHARLES DE GAULLE, France, Aug 15 (AFP) - Military vessels and aircraft streamed along France's Mediterranean coastline Sunday in an impressive ceremony commemorating World War II Allied landings in the region 60 years ago that proved a follow-up to the D-Day landings in Normandy.  

President Jacques Chirac, hosting the function aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, expressed his country's "infinite gratitude" to the nations who took part in the August 15, 1944 assault.  

Singling out Britain and the United States, Chirac told a VIP crowd: "France will never forget the blood spilled by your children for liberty."  

He also paid homage to African states -- all colonial possessions at the time -- which contributed to the US-commanded 450,000-strong force which stormed the French Riviera beaches using boats, parachutes and gliders.  

The soldiers "paid a heavy price for victory... They have mixed their blood with ours forever," he told the audience, which included the heads of state of 14 African countries and representatives from the eight other nations involved.  

After decorating 21 veterans from as many countries with the Legion d'Honneur -- most of them frail with advanced age -- Chirac took the unusual step of declaring that he was also bestowing the award on the Algerian capital of Algiers for its role as a staging ground for the Free French forces deployed in the invasion.  

The ceremony, held on the carrier's flight deck bristling with flags and ceremonial military uniforms under a clear summer sky, capped a weekend of tributes to the Allies which took part in the assault, codenamed "Operation Dragoon".  

The invasion came 10 weeks after the Normandy landings and forced the stretched Germany army to retreat, hastening the end of the war.  

In contrast with the June 6 anniversary celebrations for D-Day, Britain and the United States had a limited presence, US Vice President Dick Cheney and British Prime Minister Tony Blair having declined their invitations.  

They were represented by, respectively, US Undersecretary for Benefits in the Department of Veterans' Affairs Daniel Cooper and British Veterans Minister Ivor Caplin.  

Several African leaders failed to show as well, including Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali who cancelled at the last minute for undisclosed reasons.  

The heads of state who did show were from Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Comores, Djibouti, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Senegal and Togo.  

The other African nations, including the Republic of Congo, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mauritania and Tunisia were represented by prime ministers or government members.  

To mark the ceremony, a flotilla of 19 French warships and eight vessels from Algeria, Britain, Morocco, Tunisia and the United States filed past the Charles de Gaulle with white-clad sailors standing at attention of grey decks.  

They had steamed along the coast from Cannes to Toulon, where the aircraft carrier was floating in a wide security perimeter patrolled by coast guard ships and commandos on inflatable boats and jet-skis.  

Fighter jets flew low and fast over the crowd, carving the hot air with loud roars.   Events were to be brought to a close with a fireworks display over Toulon as the Charles de Gaulle and other vessels came into dock.

 

© AFP

 

Subject: French news

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