US, France celebrate Louisiana Purchase

17th December 2003, Comments 0 comments

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, Dec 17 (AFP) - A handful of US and French officials will put aside their differences over Iraq this weekend to mark the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase, Napoleon Bonaparte's 1803 land sale that overnight doubled the size of the young United States of America.

 

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, Dec 17 (AFP) - A handful of US and French officials will put aside their differences over Iraq this weekend to mark the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase, Napoleon Bonaparte's 1803 land sale that overnight doubled the size of the young United States of America.

French National Assembly President Jean-Louis Debre and US Interior Secretary Gale Norton will attend the main event Saturday, a re-enactment of the signing of documents that transferred more than two million square kilometers (some 800,000 square miles) from French to US ownership.

US President George W. Bush and French President Jacques Chirac however will be absent, dashing organizers's hopes that the two leaders could use the event to make amends after months of sharp differences over the US-led war in Iraq.

On May 9, 1803, US diplomats in Paris representing president Thomas Jefferson bought the city of New Orleans and the vast tract of land west of the Mississippi, which now comprises all or part of 15 states, for USD 15 million.

Napoleon had lost interest in the Americas after losing Haiti to a slave rebellion two years earlier, and needed money to finance his European military ambitions.

Information moved as fast as ships back then, and it was not until December 20, 1803, that the formal handover took place here.

Kimberly Wooten Rosenberg, a top official with Louisiana Governor Mike Foster, regretted the absence of Bush and Chirac. "It didn't fit into the schedules," she said diplomatically.

US president Theodore Roosevelt was present at the centennial celebrations in 1903 - "and it would have been a wonderful tradition to keep up" to have a president at the event, Rosenberg said. "But we have to be realistic. (Bush) is a busy man."

Despite historically close ties with France, anti-French feeling surfaced in Louisiana, as in much of the United States, after France's opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq.

A Louisiana state representative even attempted - but failed - to rescind Chirac's invitation to the celebration.

James Gill, a political columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, said that anger at France has only partially abated, even though half a million Louisiana residents can claim French ancestry.

"A lot of people hoped that Bush and Chirac would show up and give a boost to Louisiana-French commerce," Gill said. But instead Washington announced that countries that did not support the US effort to oust Saddam Hussein cannot bid for any of the Iraq reconstruction contracts.

"The general feeling around here is that it serves them right for not helping the US cause," Gill said. "It's ironic that this is just the time our relations with France should be most cordial, and it may be just the opposite."

Damien Regnard, the president of the New Orleans branch of the French-American Chamber of Commerce, said that Louisianans' attitudes toward France have improved during the past six months.

"The French-bashing for me is something that is behind me - with some scars. I'm trying to look ahead. You can use the F-word - France' - now without being looked at strangely," he said.

Regnard regretted that Bush and Chirac will not attend Saturday's celebration.

"I am sad for Louisiana. That is a state that is very Francophile and Francophone and very friendly with France. That relation and the historical aspect of it was a great opportunity (for Bush and Chirac) to talk about something else besides Iraq and to celebrate friendship between the two countries."

The re-enactment concludes a yearlong bicentennial celebration which has included lectures, exhibits, theatrical performances, a commissioned opera and even a special Beaujolais wine.

Earlier this year, the New Orleans Museum of Art, with the participation of more than 20 French museums and cultural agencies, mounted a major exhibition of French and American art and artifacts titled "Jefferson's America, Napoleon's France."

Two galas, one of which will recreate the Great Ball hosted by French representative Pierre Clement Laussat in 1803, are planned for late Saturday.

King Juan Carlos of Spain has also declined to attend the celebration, and it was unclear if Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide would be present.

© AFP

                                                                Subject: France news

 

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