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German leader to attend D-Day anniversary

Gerhard Schroeder will become the first German leader to attend a commemoration of the 1944 D-Day landings in June after being invited by France.
/ Source: Reuters

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will become the first German leader to attend a commemoration of the 1944 D-Day landings in June after being invited by France.

Ten years ago Paris did not ask Chancellor Helmut Kohl to the high-profile 50th anniversary. But President Jacques Chirac’s invitation now, and Schroeder’s acceptance, mark a gesture of reconciliation contrasting with that apparent snub.

“Mr. Chirac invited the chancellor before Christmas,” a Berlin government spokesman said on Thursday, adding that Schroeder — the first chancellor too young to remember World War II — had immediately accepted.

“He’s very pleased to have been invited.”

France confirmed the invitation to a 60th anniversary ceremony that, as a result, looks set to symbolize lasting peace between two close European Union partners who hope they have now buried the animosity that took them to war twice in the last century.

On June 6, 1944, the Allies opened a daring campaign against Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy in northwestern France, finally relieving pressure on Soviet forces battling in the east.

American, British and Canadian-led troops stormed ashore at dawn from a flotilla of ships, backed by airborne landings. Thousands died on the beaches but the invasion hastened the end for Hitler’s armies, already reeling before the Soviet onslaught.

Contrast with 1994
This year’s anniversary comes shortly after Schroeder’s own 60th birthday. Born on April 7, 1944, he was just two months old when the landings took place. He never knew his father, who was killed in action in Romania not long after he was born.

D-Day is marked each year by veterans and politicians at the site of the landings.

A spokeswoman for Chirac confirmed Schroeder’s invitation and said all other guests had been informed. These include representatives from around 15 nations who attended in 1994 from countries who contributed troops to the landings.

In what became a political row, Schroeder’s predecessor, Kohl, was not invited to the key 1994 commemorations.

To ease the resultant tension with Germany, whose eastern and western parts had been reunified four years earlier after the Cold War ended, French President Francois Mitterrand invited German troops to join France’s national Bastille Day parade along the Champs Elysees in Paris the following month.

Ten years earlier, Kohl and Mitterrand made a poignant gesture of reconciliation when they held hands at a memorial to the dead of World War I at Verdun, a battlefield in northern France.

Russians, who took no part in D-Day, were not invited in 1994 and there was no word of an invitation to them this year.