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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 January, 2004, 19:14 GMT
Germany invited to D-Day events

By Caroline Wyatt
BBC Paris correspondent

France has invited Gerhard Schroeder to ceremonies to mark the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings - the first time a German leader has been invited.

The move marks the growing ties between French President Jacques Chirac and the German chancellor.

Allied forces disembarked on the Normandy coast in the first step towards liberating France from German occupation during World War II.

Mr Schroeder has said he will participate in the ceremonies.

Jacques Chirac (l) and Gerhard Schroeder drinking together last year

The move shows how close a relationship has developed between the two countries since they put aside their wartime enmity.

Just 10 years ago it was deemed too soon to invite a German chancellor to the 50th anniversary, with the late French President, Francois Mitterrand, taking his German counterpart, Helmut Kohl, to a Franco-German youth festival instead.

This year, several other leaders are also expected to attend the D-Day ceremonies, among them the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

It is not clear how veterans' associations will react to the news that Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will be joining them for the event.

But for the French this marks yet another step on the road towards ever closer union with Germany.

The two nations remain the driving force within the European Union, with France keen to forge ahead with greater integration with Germany even if other countries wish to proceed at a slower pace.

Last year, President Chirac symbolically represented Mr Schroeder on behalf of Germany at a meeting of EU member states.

The bond between the two nations was only strengthened by their joint opposition to the war on Iraq.

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