French march in place of US troops in Spain

12th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

MADRID, Oct 12 (AFP) - French soldiers Tuesday replaced US troops in a parade to mark Spain's national day, reflecting Madrid's cooler relations with Washington since the Socialist government assumed power this year.

MADRID, Oct 12 (AFP) - French soldiers Tuesday replaced US troops in a parade to mark Spain's national day, reflecting Madrid's cooler relations with Washington since the Socialist government assumed power this year.  

Americans paraded in the Spanish capital last year and in 2002 in tribute to the victims of the September 11 2001 attacks in the US. The annual October 12 parade is also the date of the landfall in the voyage to America by Christopher Columbus in 1492.  

But last year there was a diplomatic incident when Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, then opposition leader and a fervent opponent of the US-led invasion of Iraq, remained seated as the United States stars-and-stripes flag was carried past in the parade.  

Zapatero was elected prime minister this year and soon afterwards withdrew the Spanish contingent from the coalition forces in Iraq, provoking sharp criticism from the Bush administration.  

Zapatero's administration replaced the right-wing government of former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who had strongly supported US policy over Iraq.  

Defence Minister Jose Bono said Tuesday the absence of the American contingent from the parade did not alter the relationship of "friendship and respect" between Spain and its NATO ally the US, but ended "subordination and the habit of getting down on your knees."  

The Americans were replaced by French marines marching in honour of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Paris from German occupation and paying tribute to Spanish participants in that campaign.  

King Juan Carlos, standing next to Zapatero, presided over the parade, in which troops from several Latin American countries also took part.  

The first elements of Free French troops led by General Philippe Leclerc who entered Paris on August 24 1944 included former Spanish Republican fighters in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39.  

But there was controversy over the participation of a veteran supporter of Spain's late dictator Francisco Franco, who presided over a hard-line right-wing regime for more than three decades after the civil war.  

This veteran had served during World War II with the so-called Azul (Blue) Division on the Nazi side on the Russian front.  

Associations of Republican veterans and left-wing parties protested against what they said was an attempt to "put on an equal footing those who fought for freedoms and those who massacred them".  

Defence Minister Bono, himself the son of a Franco supporter, Tuesday told Spanish radio: "There wouldn't be an awful lot of people left if we were to drive out of Spain all those who were in the Azul Division or who once upon time cheered on Franco."  

Meanwhile in Barcelona, capital of the eastern region of Catalonia which enjoys a substantial degree of autonomy from Madrid but whose regional government includes pro-independence deputies, some 400 people marched in protest at the whole idea of national day.  

Some bore banners proclaiming, in Catalan, "October 12, nothing to celebrate."   Regional opposition leader Artur Mas criticised Socialist regional president Pasqual Maragall for attending the Madrid parade.  

Mas, of the centre right Convergence and Unity Party, insisted that a Catalan leader should instead "fight for the specificity of Catalonia and its own personality" and accused Maragall of diluting the region's identity.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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