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Obama to mark 65th D-Day anniversary in Normandy

world Updated: Jun 06, 2009 09:44 IST

Reuters
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US President Barack Obama travels to Normandy on Saturday to mark the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings on beaches in northern France that led to the Allied victory over Nazi Germany.

Residents in Normandy towns decked their streets in US and French flags in preparation for Obama's visit and posters welcoming Obama read "Yes, we ca(e)n", a cross between Obama's campaign slogan and the name of a local city, Caen.

His expected presence has almost overshadowed the D-Day event, to the point that French President Nicolas Sarkozy's failure to invite Britain's Queen Elizabeth prompted accusations that he was trying to make space for himself next to Obama.

Paris said it had respected protocol. Britain said the queen had expected an invitation but had taken no offence, and London is sending Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Prince Charles. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is also due to attend.

It is a tradition for American presidents to visit the landing beaches at Normandy where the June 6, 1944, invasion by US, British, Canadian and other troops began a rollback of the Nazi war machine entrenched in Western Europe and helped end World War Two the following year.

Ronald Reagan went to the D-Day beaches on the 40th anniversary in 1984, Bill Clinton was there in 1994 for the 50th and George W. Bush was there in 2002, and in 2004 for the 60th anniversary commemoration.

Obama's visit to France is the final leg of a brief tour that has taken him to the Middle East and Germany, during which he has spoken about the relations between the Palestinians and Israel as well as his country's ties with the Muslim world.

In a landmark speech in Cairo on Thursday Obama called for a "new beginning" in ties, and in Germany he toured the World War Two concentration camp at Buchenwald which his great uncle helped liberate.

While in Germany, Obama told NBC News that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- who this week called the Holocaust a "great deception" and has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map" -- should pay his own visit to Buchenwald.

Sarkozy, who strongly condemned Ahmadinejad's remarks on Wednesday, will hold a meeting and working lunch with Obama in Caen at which diplomatic overtures to Iran over its nuclear programme will be high on the agenda.

The two will then attend the anniversary event at the American cemetery, next to one of the D-Day landing sites dubbed Omaha beach, where thousands of white stone crosses mark the graves of the US war dead.

Obama's great uncle Charles Payne, who was involved in the liberation of Buchenwald as a US soldier but did not visit the camp with Obama, would be among the war veterans at the commemoration, a White House official said.

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