VIP snubs spoil S France WWII landings party

13th August 2004, Comments 0 comments

TOULON, France, Aug 13 (AFP) - France will this weekend commemorate the World War II allied landings on the Riviera. But the absence of British, US and some African leaders has dulled the ceremonies' VIP lustre.

TOULON, France, Aug 13 (AFP) - France will this weekend commemorate the World War II allied landings on the Riviera. But the absence of British, US and some African leaders has dulled the ceremonies' VIP lustre.  

"Operation Dragoon" saw 450,000 soldiers from more than 20 countries storm France's Mediterranean coast on August 15, 1944, some 10 weeks after the bloodier and better-known D-Day invasion in Normandy.  

The most noticeable absences from the ceremonies commemorating the operation will be those of US Vice-President Dick Cheney and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who both said 'no' to their invitations early on, despite their countries having played the leading roles in the World War II landings.  

The United States and Britain will instead be represented by low-ranking ministers.   

The US is sending its undersecretary for benefits in the department of veteran affairs, retired vice-admiral Daniel Cooper, and the commander of US naval forces in Europe, Admiral Gregory Johnson. Britain is sending its minister for veterans, Ivor Caplin.  

This contrasts with the attention given to the D-Day ceremonies in June, when US President George W. Bush and Blair put aside their differences with French President Jacques Chirac, particularly over the Iraq war, to attend.  

Mauritanian President Maaouiya Ould Taya has also cancelled his visit to Toulon, where Chirac is to host the main ceremony on Sunday, because of a suspected coup plot by some army officers, a source close to his office said on Friday.  

Prime Minister Sghair Ould M'Bareck would be sent instead, said the source, who asked not to be identified.  

Ould Taya's no-show will be noted alongside those of the presidents of the Republic of Congo, Gabon, Guinea and Ivory Coast, who have also declined to attend.  

As it stands, Chirac will be joined by 15 heads of state, all of them from former French colonial possessions in Africa -- Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Tunisia.  

Soldiers from those countries played a key part in "Operation Dragoon", accounting for nearly half the 250,000-strong "French" force sent in under US command.  

More than 2,000 aircraft, 500 warships and 350 smaller vessels took part in the operation.  

Troops stormed the French Mediterranean coast between Cannes and Toulon using boats, parachutes and gliders, quickly pushing the overwhelmed German army north where they were caught in a pincer between the allies from the south and D-Day forces moving across the country.  

Small ceremonies remembering the start of the historic assault will be held on Saturday, including one that will pay homage to US troops in a US war cemetery to be attended by French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and 20 US veterans.  

On Sunday, monuments to the operation will be unveiled then a multinational flotilla of 20 French vessels and eight foreign ones will begin their procession along the coast from Cannes to Toulon.  

Once at Toulon, the main ceremony aboard France's nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle will take place, accompanied by an aerobatic display involving 20 military jets and a fireworks display.  

Authorities have gone to lengths to ensure security during the anniversary celebrations, notably banning all aerial sports including hang-gliding, model airplane displays and ballooning around Toulon from Thursday and closing several roads at the weekend.  

Some 6,000 soldiers and police officers will conduct land, air and sea patrols.



Subject: French news

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