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French, German Leaders Commemorate Armistice Day

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Two days after 20th anniversary celebrations of  the fall of the Berlin Wall, German and French leaders met in Paris in another symbol of growing European unity, to jointly commemorate Armistice Day.  This is the first time a German leader has attended the Paris ceremony marking the end of World War I.

On a cold and gray morning, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy together rekindled a flame before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Champs Elysees.

The two European leaders listened to a French army choir sang the Marseillaise and then the German anthem, marking a French-German friendship that grew from the ashes of the two world wars.  France and Germany helped found the European Union and are still considered the main engines driving the 27-member bloc.

In a speech at the tomb, Mr. Sarkozy said Germany and France share the same values, the same ambitions for Europe and the same currency.  He said the friendship between the two countries should be treasured and when the two work together, they accomplish great things.

Ties have grown closer between France and Germany over the years.  Relations between former French president Jacques Chirac and German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder were particularly strong and the two forged a united front against the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy are not as close.  France and Germany disagree in some areas, like cutting government deficits.  But experts like Jean-Luc Sauron say the French-German relationship still matters.

A professor at Paris-Dauphine University, Sauron told French radio it is important for the two countries to go beyond symbols like Armistice Day.  One test will be next week, when European Union leaders gather to choose the first  president of the European Union.  France and Germany are expected to support the same candidate for the post.   

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