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Sarkozy tours de Gaulle sites

President marks anniversary of WWII broadcast

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy reached out for the hand of her husband, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, during a parade at The Royal Hospital Chelsea in London. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy reached out for the hand of her husband, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, during a parade at The Royal Hospital Chelsea in London. (Associated Press/ Pool)
By David Stringer
Associated Press / June 19, 2010

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LONDON — President Nicolas Sarkozy of France marked the 70th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle’s defiant World War II broadcast from London yesterday, visiting resistance sites and pledging to use historic ties with Britain to tackle modern challenges.

Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, toured studio B2 at London’s Broadcasting House, the British Broadcasting Corp. complex in central London where de Gaulle urged his compatriots to resist the German occupation.

Prince Charles later guided the couple on a tour of the London headquarters of the Free French, the fighters led by de Gaulle to resist Nazi Germany’s advance.

Sarkozy’s visit comes at a time when Europe is wrestling with economic rather than military challenges, and both he and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain said past triumphs must be matched by effort to resolve the financial crisis and climate change.

“We come as friends, and friends who remember the past and what France owes you,’’ Sarkozy told an audience of about 1,500 veterans and dignitaries at London’s Royal Hospital Chelsea, a hospital and retirement center for former soldiers.

Amid pomp and ceremony, Sarkozy bestowed the French Legion d’Honneur on six World War II veterans — three British and three French.

British and French jets made a ceremonial fly-past through London’s cloudy skies, while red-jacketed veterans and guards in plumed helmets mingled with dignitaries. Soldiers from both countries formed a joint guard of honor.

“Britain and France will be true to those who died for them in the skies above London, in the Libyan desert, on the Normandy beaches, and the plain of Alsace, when all that we hold most dear was threatened with annihilation,’’ Sarkozy told veterans who attended the ceremony. He spoke in French.

The fallen will be honored “by taking on together the defense of freedom and democracy everywhere in the world,’’ Sarkozy said.

Cameron, who made his first overseas visit as British leader to Paris, greeted Sarkozy warmly before a private lunch with their wives at his official residence in London.

“The bravery we celebrate today is not just a thing of the past, it is present every day,’’ said Cameron, praising the effort of British and French troops in Afghanistan.

“Today is not just about the shared history of Britain and France, it is about our shared responsibilities and our shared future,’’ he said.

De Gaulle’s appeal, which was largely unheard in France when it was initially broadcast and wasn’t recorded, was read aloud at the ceremony. The French Army choir then sang the wartime resistance song “Le Chant des Partisans.’’

UK ministers initially refused de Gaulle’s request to air his appeal using the BBC’s facilities, but relented after the intervention of British wartime leader Winston Churchill.

France was occupied by Nazi Germany and its allies from 1940 to 1944 during World War II, and liberated after the D-day landings and assault by British, US, Canadian, and Free French forces.

During the commemoration, Sarkozy and Charles jointly laid wreaths at the statues of King George VI, the wartime monarch, and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, the queen mother.

Some 200 French veterans of the Resistance and World War II boarded a special Eurostar train in Paris yesterday to join ceremonies in London. A portrait of de Gaulle was emblazoned on the train.

In talks over a lunch of Cornish sea bass and French wine, Cameron and Sarkozy discussed Europe’s turbulent economies and next week’s Group of 20 and Group of Eight summits in Canada.

Cameron offered his condolences over deaths in southeastern France following flash floods, and discussed Afghanistan and the World Cup, the British leader’s office said.

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