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Last Updated: Friday, 4 June, 2004, 20:32 GMT 21:32 UK
Wales minister faces D-Day storm
Wales' First Minister Rhodri Morgan
Morgan: Will be represented by a fellow minister
Wales' first minister has defended his decision not to attend D-Day memorial events in Normandy - and says he has no intention of changing his mind.

Rhodri Morgan faces increasing pressure after his Scottish counterpart, Jack McConnell, pulled out of a golf dinner to join world leaders at the event.

The shadow defence secretary, Nicholas Soames, criticised Mr Morgan's absence as "deeply disrespectful" to veterans.

Mr Morgan is due to attend a meeting on Wales hosting the 2010 Ryder Cup.

Rhodri Morgan should be representing Wales to honour the Welsh soldier who fought and died on the beaches of France on D-Day
Nick Bourne
Welsh Conservatives

In Scotland Mr McConnell announced his U-turn to pull out of a golf club dinner at St Andrews and attend the commemoration events after criticism from the Royal British Legion and opposition parties.

Pressed by BBC Radio 4's PM programme about whether there was any chance of him changing his mind, Mr Morgan said: "None whatsoever."

He said Wales would be "appropriately represented" by social justice minister Edwina Hart, whose father had served in the RAF during the World War II.

Lest we forget

He had returned from Finland late on Thursday evening and had to give attention now to his family, the coming elections and his constituency, he said.

"It's not as though Wales is not going to be represented at the D-Day 60th anniversary," the first minister added.

His spokeswoman said Mr Morgan's invitation to the celebrations had only arrived at the end of April.

Scotland's First Minister Jack McConnell
McConnell: Should I stay or should I go?

But the Welsh Conservatives argued Mr Morgan should be in Normandy, leaving another minister to discuss the Ryder Cup.

Nick Bourne, the party's leader in the Welsh Assembly, said: "Rhodri Morgan should be representing Wales to honour the Welsh soldiers who fought and died on the beaches of France on D-Day.

"They fought to liberate Europe from the evils of Nazism and extremism and we must never forget that.

"There is no reason why Sports Minister Alun Pugh or another cabinet member could not have represented the assembly government at the Celtic Manor this weekend."

'Legitimate concerns'

Mr Soames described Mr Morgan's stance as "inexcusably casual and deeply disrespectful" to the memory of Welshmen who died in the war and to surviving veterans.

Mr McConnell said he had changed his mind because he had no wish to see the "very important" Normandy event turned into a political row.

"Given the legitimate concerns expressed by decent families here in Scotland, I think that is the right thing to do," he said.

The first minister had been accused of insulting war veterans by not travelling to Normandy for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings this weekend.

I have decided...that I will go to the D-Day events, that I will represent the Scottish Government
Jack McConnell
Scotland's First Minister
He said he had already been invited to the dinner for the 250th anniversary of the Royal and Ancient (R&A) - which will also be attended by Prince Andrew - when he was asked to attend the commemoration in France.

Finance Minister Andy Kerr had been due to represent the Scottish Executive at the commemoration.

The Royal British Legion in Scotland reacted with "dismay" to that decision.

Spokesman Neil Griffiths said: "There was 60 years to prepare for this anniversary - it's an extremely important one. It's the last ever really big D-Day anniversary which veterans will be able to attend."

'Right decision'

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell welcomed Mr McConnell's decision, but said it would be embarrassing for him.

"On the 60th anniversary of D-Day, probably the last major commemoration of the landings, there is only one place for the first minister to be and that is in France," he said.

Phil Gallie, Scottish Tory constitutional affairs spokesman, said Mr McConnell had made "the right decision", although it was "a pity" it had not come earlier.

SNP leader John Swinney welcomed Mr McConnell's U-turn as it was "his duty" to be in France.

The Queen, Tony Blair, George Bush and other leaders will attend the D-Day ceremony - which will see about 10,000 war veterans returning to the beaches.




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