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Macron provokes anger over tribute to France's Nazi collaborator Pétain

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Macron provokes anger over tribute to France's Nazi collaborator Pétain
Macron defends the homage to Pétain (inset) and other French World War One soldiers. and Photo: AFP
16:40 CET+01:00
President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday that it was "absolutely legitimate" that France honours the role of Marshal Philippe Pétain for being a "great soldier" in World War One even if he did go on to collaborate with the Nazis in the Second World War before being jailed for treason.

Homage will paid to Marshal Philippe Pétain and other World War One French army leaders at a service at Les Invalides in Paris on Saturday as part of the commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One.

Macron himself won't be present but the head of France's armed services will be there.

But given that Pétain went on to rule the so-called Vichy France regime which collaborated with the Nazis in World War Two, notably over the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews to death camps, questions have been raised over whether Pétain should be among those honoured.

However when asked about he controversial choice Macron defended Pétain - who was later imprisoned for committing treason - as one of the heros of World War One even if he did go on to make "disastrous choices" during World War Two.

"Marshall Pétain was a great soldier during World War One," said Macron. "That's a reality of our country".

"French politicians and historians have judged him, but I consider it's absolutely legitimate that we pay homage to those who led the army to victory," said Macron. "Politics like human nature is more complex than we often believe.

"You can be a great soldier during World War One and then go on to make disastrous choices during World War Two."

READ ALSO: Five things to know about Philippe Pétain - World War One hero turned Nazi collaborator

As expected Macron's choice of words sparked a furious reaction among many, notably on Twitter where some accused him of "shaming the history of France".

"In 1945, Pétain is condemned to national indignity. In 2018, the French State pays him a national tribute. On top of that Macron claims to fight against the extreme right. Shameful. Never forget," said one tweet that was widely liked and shared.
 
CRIF, the umbrella group representing Jewish organisations in France said it was "shocked" by Macron's words.
 
"The only thing we will remember about Petain is that he was convicted, in the name of the French people, of national indignity during his trial in 1945," said in a statement from CRIF.

Jean-Luc Melenchon of the far-left France Unbowed party said: "Petain is a traitor and an anti-Semite," tweeted , echoing a flurry of angry postings.
 
"Macron, this time you've gone too far!"

While veteran France correspondent and columnist for The Local John Lichfield disputed whether Pétain is really deserving of the title "great soldier".

Petain remains a controversial and disputed figure in France. While he is heralded by the far right most others do not forgot his role in the death of thousands of Jews. Pétain's tomb has been regularly vandalised over the years.

Pétain was a French general officer who attained the position of Marshal of France -- a position awarded for exceptional military achievements -- at the end of World War One.

During the war he became known as 'The Lion of Verdun' for his role in the Battle of Verdun, one of the Great War's longest and bloodiest battles where some 162,000 French soldiers were killed.

While the Nazis occupied the north of France, Petain led so-called Vichy France in the centre and the south of the country, with its headquarters in the eponymous spa city.

Despite having autonomy from German policies, Petain passed legislation that saw Jews -- around 150,000 of whom had fled to southern France believing it to be safer -- subjected to severe discrimination similar to that in the Nazi-occupied north.

Under Petain, the Vichy regime put to death up to 15,000 people and helped deport nearly 80,000.

After the war Petain was convicted of treason and condemned to death but General Charles de Gaulle commuted his sentence to life in prison.

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