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France Plans July 4 Celebrations to Show US Affection - 2003-07-03

When Americans celebrate Independence Day Friday, they will be joined by some of their toughest critics in recent months, the French, who strongly opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Some of the planned Fourth of July festivities in France aim to warm up a transatlantic alliance that has become decidedly frosty.

American comedian Woody Allen is urging his fellow countrymen to fall in love again with France, following bitter diplomatic sparring over Iraq. But some French intend to use this Fourth of July to show they are already back in love with the Americans.

The Paris tourism office is draping the city's famous Champs Elysees in stars and stripes to mark American Independence Day on Friday. Many Parisian hotels also plan to celebrate the holiday with an eye to rekindling U.S. interest in the French capital.

The hotels are missing their American friends. According to figures provided by the tourism office, hotel stays by U.S. visitors between January and April are down nearly 25 percent from the same period last year.

Even ordinary Frenchmen and women are getting in on the Fourth of July celebrations this year. A group of French citizens with ties to the United States is planning to lay red roses on the graves of more than 60,000 American servicemen and women who died in France during the two world wars.

This initiative is called, "The French have not forgotten", and organizer Anne-Colombe de La Taille says it will continue beyond this year. Ms. de la Taille works in public relations and travels often to the United States. She says the transatlantic difference is down to a misunderstanding.

"When I arrived in France, the French say 'the Americans hate us.' All the French products are out," she said. "And when I arrive in the United States, all the Americans say, 'Why do the French hate us?' So it was a misunderstanding. After all, there is not one American, just like there is not one French."

Despite efforts by Mrs. de la Taille and others to patch up differences, some French say they are still feeling the fallout of U.S. ire. That is the case with French winemakers, who claim their exports to the United States have dropped by nine percent in the first four months of this year.

Meanwhile, American presence at France's famed Le Bourget air show was sizably reduced this year as well, although the official blame centered on the troubled airline industry.

French skepticism also remains over whether the U.S.-led war in Iraq was justified. That was clear Wednesday, for example, during a TV interview featuring former American first lady Hillary Clinton.

Mrs. Clinton, who is now a U.S. senator, was in France to promote a book about her days at the White House.

The French news anchor asked Mrs. Clinton whether she thought it was worse to lie about a sexual affair, or about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which have yet to be found. The senator replied that she had supported armed intervention in Iraq, but that there should be an inquiry into intelligence information supplied about the weapons.

The interview shows that despite French Fourth of July festivities, transatlantic relations are still a long way from perfect.