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May 8th: Here’s what’s planned to mark VE day in France

In towns and villages across the country, the French will turn out on Wednesday, May 8th to celebrate the end of World War II and to honour those who died in the conflict that left much of Europe in ruins.

May 8th: Here's what's planned to mark VE day in France
French Foreign Legion soldiers at VE Day commemorations in May 2018. Photo AFP

France is one of a handful of western European countries which have made a public holiday of the date that marks the formal acceptance by the Allies of Nazi Germany's unconditional surrender of its armed forces.

The biggest event in France this year will, as always, be in Paris, where President Emmanuel Macron will lay a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe.

The arch, which stands at the top of the Avenue des Champs Elysées, has been entirely restored for the Victory in Europe celebrations after being vandalised in December during an anti-government “yellow vest” demonstration.

Culture Minister Franck Riester said €1.2 million was spent restoring damaged statues and equipment inside the landmark at the top of the Champs-Elysées.

As well as spraying its walls with graffiti and breaking equipment, rioters smashed artworks, including a 1930s copy of a famous sculpture of “The Marseillaise” by Francois Rude representing Victory, which was moulded from the 19th-century original.

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Graffiti was daubed on the Arc de Triomphe in December. Photo: AFP

Macron will on Wednesday lay a wreath at the statue on Place Clémenceau of France’s wartime leader General Charles de Gaulle before driving up the Champs Elysées with a Republican Guard escort to the Arc de Triomphe ceremony to mark the 74th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe.

Other smaller commemorative events will take across France on Wednesday, when schools and most businesses will be closed for the holiday.

Many will consist of the local mayor leading a ceremony laying wreaths for the fallen at the monuments or statues that stand in most French towns to honour those killed during the 1939-45 conflict during which France was occupied by German forces.

The majority of French people will not be at work as the day is a public holiday in France.
 
It had been feared that the day could have been scrapped as a public holiday as part of Emmanuel Macron's moves to bring more money into the public coffers to fund his promised tax cuts.
 
A leaked version of his speech in response to months of 'yellow vest' protests sparked speculation that the May 8th bank holiday was to be axed.
 
However when he delivered the speech the week after the Notre-Dame fire, there was no mention of May 8th.
 
France is one of only a few European countries – along with Poland the the Czech Republic – to have the day as a public holiday, although Italy, Denmark and the Netherlands all have bank holidays commemorating liberation days earlier in the year.

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WAR

French forces tortured and murdered Algerian freedom fighter in 1950s, admits Macron

French forces "tortured and murdered" Algerian freedom fighter Ali Boumendjel during his country's war for independence, President Emmanuel Macron admitted on Tuesday, officially reappraising a death that was covered up as a suicide.

French forces tortured and murdered Algerian freedom fighter in 1950s, admits Macron
Malika, the widow of Ali Boumendjel, pictured in 2001. Photo: Stefan Fferberg/AFP

Macron made the admission “in the name of France” during a meeting with Boumendjel’s grandchildren.

The move comes after Macron in January refused to issue an official apology for abuses committed during the occupation of Algeria – instead, he agreed to form a “truth commission” as recommended by a report commissioned by the government to shed light on France’s colonial past.

Atrocities committed by both sides during the 1954-1962 Algerian war of independence continue to strain relations between the countries.

Boumendjel, a nationalist and lawyer, was arrested during the battle of Algiers by the French army, “placed incommunicado, tortured, and then killed on 23 March 1957,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

“Ali Boumendjel did not commit suicide. He was tortured and then killed,” Macron told Boumendjel’s grandchildren, according to the statement.

It is not the first time the real cause of death was acknowledged.

In 2000, the former head of French intelligence in Algiers Paul Aussaresses confessed to ordering Boumendjel’s death and disguising the murder as a suicide, according to the statement.

It added that Macron on Tuesday had also reiterated his desire to give families the opportunity to find out the truth about this chapter of history.

Last month, Boumendjel’s niece Fadela Boumendjel-Chitour denounced what she called the “devastating” lie the French state had told about her uncle.

French historian Benjamin Stora, who wrote the government-commissioned report, has said there is a “never-ending memory war” between the two countries.

The report has been described by the Algerian government as “not objective” and falling “below expectations.”

During his 2017 election campaign, Macron – the first president born after the colonial period – declared that the occupation of Algeria was a “crime against humanity”.

He has since said there was “no question of showing repentance” or of “presenting an apology” for abuses committed in the North African country.

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