World leaders to descend on France for WWI commemorations

A man dressed as a French soldier of the World war I (WWI) also called "poilu" stands guard in front of a monument in tribute to the soldiers killed during the World War I. (AFP)
Updated 04 November 2018
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World leaders to descend on France for WWI commemorations

  • Macron is gearing up for a busy week of diplomacy that will see him play host to leaders including Trump and Putin
  • Macron will notably use the international spotlight to issue a rallying cry against populism

PARIS: France kicks off a week of World War I commemorations from Sunday, with some 80 leaders from around the globe preparing to fly in for a ceremony marking a century since the guns fell silent.
French President Emmanuel Macron is gearing up for a busy week of diplomacy that will see him play host to leaders including US President Donald Trump and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
He will also be criss-crossing northern France, visiting the battlefields where hundreds of thousands of men lost their lives in the trenches.
Macron will notably use the international spotlight to issue a rallying cry against populism — in the presence of “America First” Trump and other nationalist leaders.
The commemorations will culminate in a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on November 11 attended by dozens of leaders including Trump, Putin and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, 100 years to the day since the armistice.
The ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the Champs-Elysees avenue will be held under tight security following a string of deadly jihadist attacks in France over the past three years.
Remembrance events begin on Sunday, November 3 with a concert celebrating friendship between former wartime enemies France and Germany in the border city of Strasbourg, attended by Macron and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Macron will then spend the week visiting the Western Front battlefields, from Verdun to the Somme.
On Tuesday, in honor of the “black army” of former colonial troops who fought alongside the French, he and Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita will visit Reims, a city defended by the African soldiers.
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May will join Macron on the Somme on Friday, while on Saturday he heads to the village of Rethondes, where the armistice was signed, with Merkel.
War commemorations aside, Macron is set to use his tour of northern France to visit areas hit hard by industrial decline, where far-right leader Marine Le Pen performed strongly in last year’s presidential election.
“After paying homage to those who died for their country it will be back to dealing with social and economic problems,” said Bruno Cautres of political think-tank CEVIPOF.
Macron — who has struggled to shake off an image as a “president of the rich” — will zip through 17 towns, holding Wednesday’s weekly cabinet meeting in the Ardennes, an area which was battered by the war and today suffers high unemployment.
The 40-year-old president, whose approval rating is languishing at a dismal 21 percent according to a YouGov poll released Thursday, has dismissed rumors that he is suffering from burn-out.
He sparked rampant speculation by taking a few days off ahead of the tour, which aides have insisted were to gather his energy before an intense week of diplomacy.
This week is an opportunity for the centrist to “reflect a strong presidential image” both at home and abroad, Cautres said.
Macron is set to use his speeches to hammer home warnings of the dangers of nationalism at a time when populists are on the march around Europe and beyond.
In an interview Thursday, he said Europe risked a return to the 1930s because of the spread of a nationalist “leprosy” across the continent.
“I am struck by similarities between the times we live in and those of between the two world wars,” he told the Ouest-France newspaper.
“In a Europe divided by fears, the return of nationalism, the consequences of economic crisis, one sees almost systematically everything that marked Europe between the end of World War I and the 1929 (economic) crisis.”
Macron is attempting to position himself as a champion of centrist politics and multilateralism in the run-up to European parliamentary elections in May, saying he expects the duel to be one between “progressives” and “nationalists.”
After next Sunday’s ceremony, world leaders are set to attend a three-day peace forum opened by Merkel, an event which France wants to turn into an annual multilateral peace conference.


British envoy denies Iran summons over tanker attacks claim

Updated 16 June 2019
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British envoy denies Iran summons over tanker attacks claim

  • “I asked for an urgent meeting with the Foreign Ministry yesterday and it was granted. No ‘summons’,” he said
  • Iran’s foreign ministry said the head of its European affairs Mahmoud Barimani met Macaire on Saturday

TEHRAN: Britain’s ambassador to Iran on Sunday denied he was summoned by the Iranian foreign ministry after London accused Tehran of “almost certainly” being responsible for tanker attacks in the Gulf.
“Interesting. And news to me,” ambassador Rob Macaire said in a tweet a day after the Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement that it had summoned the envoy over his government’s accusations.
“I asked for an urgent meeting with the Foreign Ministry yesterday and it was granted. No ‘summons’. Of course if formally summoned I would always respond, as would all Ambassadors,” Macaire wrote.
Iran’s foreign ministry said the head of its European affairs Mahmoud Barimani met Macaire on Saturday and “strongly protested against the unacceptable and anti-Iranian positions of the British government.”
On Friday, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said London had concluded Iran was “almost certainly” responsible for Thursday’s tanker attacks.
He was echoing remarks by US President Donald Trump who said Thursday’s attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman had Iran “written all over it.”
Iran has denied any involvement in the twin attacks.
It dismissed Hunt’s accusations as “false” and chided London for its “blind and precipitous alignment” with US views, according to the foreign ministry.
The latest incident comes as ties between Tehran and London have been strained in recent months, namely over the fate of a British-Iranian mother jailed in Iran on sedition charges.
London has repeatedly called for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was arrested in April 2016 as she was leaving Iran after taking their infant daughter to visit her family.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is serving a five-year sentence for allegedly trying to topple the Iranian government, has begun a hunger strike in protest at her detention, her husband said on Saturday.
She previously went on hunger strike in January.
Richard Ratcliffe urged the Iranian authorities to immediately release his wife and to allow the British embassy to check on her health, and also asked they grant him a visa to visit her.
On Saturday he also stood outside Iran’s London embassy and said he would maintain his own hunger strike and vigil for as long as his wife refused food.