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Africa

France to honour colonial war dead with world war victims, Sarkozy says

media President Nicolas Sarkozy with the children of soldiers who died in Afghanistan … Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

France is to honour soldiers killed in colonial wars alongside the victims of the first and second world wars in a US-style Memorial Day, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced during Armistice Day ceremonies Friday.France is to honour soldiers killed in colonial wars alongside the victims of the first and second world wars in a US-style Memorial Day, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced during Armistice Day ceremonies Friday.

Speaking at the tomb of the unknown soldier at Paris’s Arc de Triomphe, Sarkozy declared that the government will table a bill “that will make the anniversary of the 1918 armistice the date of commemoration of the Great War and of all those who have died for France”.

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That means not only the more the nearly two million killed in both world wars but also “those who fell in Indochina, Suez, north Africa”, he said, as well as in the Balkans, the Middle East, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire and Afghanistan.

The elision of colonial wars with wars fought in Europe has already attracted condemnation from north African war veterans and is likely to enrage the governments of former French colonies, especially Algeria and Vietnam.

One of the largest north African veterans’ groups, Fnaca, has declared its fierce opposition to the proposal.

Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande slammed Sarkozy's proposal at a ceremony in the Marne region, where much of World War I was fought.

"11 November should remain a reminder of the ravages of nationalism, the spirit of vengeance and the hatred motivated by wrong causes," he said.

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The Algerian government is in permanent dispute with France over the legacy of the bitter war that ended colonial rule and recently issued a stamp to commemorate the 1961 massacre of pro-independence demonstrators in Paris.

Sarkozy also declared that a war memorial on which all the names of soldiers killed in operations abroad will be inscribed will by erected in Paris.

Later Friday he and the head of his UMP party, Jean-François Copé, attended the opening of a museum dedicated to World War I at Meaux, east of Paris, where a monument to the American war dead has stood since 1932.

Sarkozy claimed credit for France for the toppling of Moamer Kadhafi, who was killed in dubious circumstances after Nato airplanes fired on his convoy last month.

“Thanks to the French army, a dictator has fallen in Libya,” he told France 2 television after Friday’s Armistice Day ceremony finished.

Sarkozy also promised that French troops would not stay in Afghanistan much longer and that he would “fight with all my strength” to maintain the European Union.

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