Schroeder in D-Day cemetery row

4th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

BERLIN, June 4 (AFP) - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder lashed critics Friday for playing political games after they accused him of shunning a visit to a German cemetery on the sidelines of this weekend's D-Day ceremonies.

BERLIN, June 4 (AFP) - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder lashed critics Friday for playing political games after they accused him of shunning a visit to a German cemetery on the sidelines of this weekend's D-Day ceremonies.

The chancellor, who is the first German leader to attend the ceremonies in northern France, will lay two wreaths at an Allied cemetery at Ranville that also contains the remains of more than 300 Germans.

But several opposition conservatives and commentators have questioned his patriotism for not visiting an official German war cemetery near Bayeux where more than 2,000 soldiers are buried.

Schroeder said the issue was "too important and too sensitive" to be marred by "political games," and urged critics "to keep what is happening on Sunday free of party political, power political machinations.

"There are things which should be kept clear of such considerations," the chancellor told reporters. "This is just such a time."

Germany regards Schroeder's invitation to the ceremony, which commemorates the Allied landings in occupied northern France 60 years ago that ultimately led to the end of World War II, as "a gesture of reconciliation by the former enemies," in the words of chief government spokesman Bela Anda.

He said that after Sunday's main ceremony at Arromanches, Schroeder would lay one wreath at Ranville, the final resting-place of more than 2,200 British and Commonwealth troops and 322 Germans, for all those buried there.

The second would be at the grave of an unknown German soldier.

"I find it a bit of a shame when even this gesture (at Ranville) is being used in a petty argument," Schroeder told ARD public television in an interview to be aired later Friday.

"I will visit a war cemetery, one in which lie the dead from eight nations, including more than 300 German soldiers. And Allied too.

"I think a shared commemoration is what is most important here, including a shared commemoration of the dead," added Schroeder, whose own father died in the war.

"And I just don't understand those people... who think that you can have a quarrel about it, which I find historically inaccurate and insensitive."

The fuss over which graves he should visit highlights the delicate nature of the occasion.

Peter Ramsauer, a top official in the conservative Christian Social Union, said that "if he (Schroeder) walks past a German war cemetery without laying a wreath, I would consider him anti-patriotic."

The mass-selling Bild newspaper said that while it was good of Schroeder to lay a wreath for Allied troops, "it is pitiful that he is avoiding a cemetery for German soldiers".

The Handelsblatt newspaper said the chancellor was avoiding a specifically German war cemetery in order to avoid an embarrassing debate about whether he was also implicitly honouring any SS soldiers buried there.

A poll for N24 rolling news station found 77 percent support for Schroeder's participation at the D-Day ceremonies. Only 16 percent of the 1,004 questioned thought he should stay away - a figure that rose to 20 percent among people aged 60 and above who would have been born before or during the war.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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