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France Invites Germany to D-Day Ceremonies in Normandy - 2004-01-02

France has invited German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to attend the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in Normandy, an event that turned the tide of World War II and hastened the liberation of western Europe from Nazi rule. It is the first time a German leader has been invited to attend the ceremony, which will be held near the northern French beaches where allied troops came ashore on June 6, 1944.

Ten years ago, on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, the French government failed to invite then-German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl. That was seen in Germany as a snub. The late Francois Mitterrand, who was France's president at the time, tried to make up for the oversight a month later by inviting German troops to join French units in parading down Paris' Champs Elysees on Bastille Day, the French national day.

French President Jacques Chirac's invitation to Mr. Schroeder is being seen in Europe as a gesture of reconciliation, contrasting with the snub of 10 years ago.

A German government spokesman says the French invitation and the German leader's immediate acceptance are signs that times have changed.

Mr. Chirac has also invited the leaders of countries whose soldiers took part in the D-Day invasions, including President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

A French diplomat says the occasion will offer World War II allies a chance to mark their historic ties following a year when another war, in Iraq, badly strained relations, especially those between France and the United States.

The diplomat says the 60th anniversary of D-Day will also symbolize lasting peace between France and Germany. In the years since World War II, the two countries have steadily built up a close political and economic relationship, and are considered the main engines of European integration, a project that was designed to end their traditional enmity. The two countries fought three wars between 1870 and 1945.

On June 6, 1944, a massive wave of mainly U.S., British and Canadian troops landed on the beaches of Normandy from a flotilla of ships lying offshore, and were backed by airborne assaults on German positions. Thousands of soldiers died on the beaches, but the invasion quickened the end of the Nazi regime.

Mr. Schroeder, who will turn 60 this year, is the first German leader too young to remember World War II.