Trump, Macron honor D-Day veterans who fought through “fires of hell”

U.S. and French flags are seen in the American cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer in Normandy, France, June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

By Marine Pennetier and Steve Holland

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France (Reuters) – France will never forget the sacrifice of the Allied troops who liberated it from Nazi Germany, President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday, the 75th anniversary of the D-Day operation that helped bring World War Two to an end.

U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May joined Macron at separate ceremonies along a 80km (50 mile) stretch of Normandy coastline, where more than 150,000 soldiers landed on June 6, 1944, under a hail of German fire.

“We know what we owe to you, our veterans: our freedom. On behalf of my country, I want to say ‘thank you’,” Macron told several dozen American D-Day combatants at a U.S. war cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, one of five landing spots in Normandy.

“France will never forget.”

People take pictures in the American cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer in Normandy ahead of the commemoration ceremony for the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France, June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

People take pictures in the American cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer in Normandy ahead of the commemoration ceremony for the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France, June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Macron awarded the Legion d’honneur, France’s highest award for merit, to five U.S. veterans and embraced each man warmly.

The Normandy landings were months in the planning and were kept secret from Hitler and his forces despite a huge trans-Atlantic mobilization of industry and manpower.

Under the cover of darkness, thousands of Allied paratroopers jumped behind Germany’s coastal defenses. Then, as day broke, warships pounded German positions before hundreds of landing craft disgorged the infantry troops under a barrage of machine-gun fire and artillery.

Some veterans say the sea and sand turned red with blood during the operation. Dozens of U.S. Rangers were felled by German machine-guns as they scaled the cliffs rising up from Omaha Beach to Colleville-sur-Mer, where the U.S. cemetery lies.

“You are among the very greatest Americans who will ever live,” Trump said in his address, turning to the surviving veterans. “You are the pride of our nation, you are the glory of our republic and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

“These men moved through the fires of hell,” he said. “They came here and saved freedom, and then they went home and showed us all what freedom is about.”

People applauded as one of the veterans, 94-year-old Private Russell Pickett, rose shakily to his feet. “Tough guy,” Trump said, before Macron helped lower Pickett back into his seat.

French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S President Donald Trump stand during a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S President Donald Trump stand during a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

“SPECIAL GENERATION”

The Normandy landings remain the largest ever amphibious invasion and paved the way for western Europe’s liberation.

Inaugurating a memorial to the 22,000 soldiers under British command who were killed on June 6, 1944, and in the ensuing battle for Normandy, British Prime Minister Theresa May saluted the bravery of the soldiers, many of whom were still boys when they waded ashore as shells screamed overhead.

“It’s almost impossible to grasp the raw courage it must have taken that day to leap from landing craft and into the surf despite the fury of battle,” May told a small gathering that included Macron and veterans, their uniforms laden with medals.

“These young men belonged to a very special generation … whose incomparable spirit shaped our post-war world,” she said.

The devastation wrought by two world wars in the first half of the 20th century fostered a decades-long era of cooperation between European capitals determined to protect their hard-fought peace, giving rise to what is now the European Union.

But even as Britain now tries to sever its ties with the bloc after four decades of membership, Macron told May some links between France and Britain were indestructible.

“Nothing will ever take away the links of spilled blood and shared values. The debates of the present in no way take away from the past.”

SACRIFICED LIVES

An hour after sunrise, under clear blue skies, a lone piper on the remnants of an artificial harbor played Highland Laddie to mark the hour the first British soldier set foot on French sand. The Mulberry Harbor was built to supply allied troops as they pushed the Germans back.

Restored wartime jeeps and amphibious vehicles lined the beach at Arromanches and in villages along the Normandy shore the flags of Britain, Canada and the United States, the main contributors to the Allied force, fluttered in the breeze.

The commemorations come against the backdrop of two years of forthright diplomacy and “America First” policymaking by Trump and his administration that have shaken the NATO alliance and tested relations with allies including Britain and France.

On the eve of the anniversary, France’s president evoked the spirit of D-Day, saying: “These allied forces that together freed us from the German yoke, and from tyranny, are the same ones that were able to build the existing multilateral structures after World War Two.

“We must not repeat history, and remind ourselves what was built on the basis of the war,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Caen and Paris bureau; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Frances Kerry, Raissa Kasolowsky and Andrew Heavens)

There to save, not to kill: U.S. survivor recalls D-Day bloodshed

Charles Norman Shay, 94, a Penobscot Native American Indian WWII veteran, poses as he attends an interview with Reuters in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, near Omaha Beach, France, May 18, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

By Hortense de Roffignac

OMAHA BEACH, France (Reuters) – Seventy-five years ago, 19-year-old Charles Shay leapt off a U.S. landing boat and into chest-deep water just off the Normandy coast. As he came ashore in the first wave of D-Day infantrymen, he had just one objective.

“I wanted to survive, and that was the thought going through many minds: survival,” Shay said.

On June 6, 1944, he was in France not to kill but to rescue. As a medical technician, he was to treat the wounded as the world’s largest ever seaborne invasion unfolded.

One of 175 Native Americans who landed in Normandy that day, he ran across the beach dozens of times, dragging men out of the surf and patching up their wounds under heavy fire — actions for which he was awarded a Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, and France’s Legion d’Honneur.

All around him, Shay faced the earsplitting chaos of rattling machine guns, exploding mortars, disfigured bodies and far too many wounded to treat. Of the 160,000 troops who landed during D-Day, more than 10,000 were wounded or killed.

“I had to sit and think, I had to push all of this out of my mind,” Shay, who celebrates his 95th birthday next month, told Reuters. “I did not think about it anymore, and then I was able to operate and do the things that I was trained to do: treat the wounded and try to save lives.”

He grew up in the Indian Penobscot Nation in the U.S. northeast but now, drawn back to the place where he took part in history, he lives in Normandy.

As the invasion’s 75th anniversary approaches, the telling contribution made by Native Americans – many of them Comanche code talkers tasked with sending radio messages in their language’s impenetrable code – is only starting to be fully appreciated.

That is in large part down to Shay.

Charles Norman Shay, 94, a Penobscot Native American Indian WWII veteran, poses holding an eagle feather as he attends an interview with Reuters in Bretteville l’Orgueilleuse, France, May 18, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

“After the war, long after, I wanted to speak for Native American veterans,” he said, standing on a bluff near the town of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, overlooking Omaha Beach. In his hand, he holds a feather of a beaded eagle and his chest is adorned with his unit’s insignia, a host of medals and a traditional Native collar.

Last year, his efforts bore fruit when a memorial was erected to the Native Americans who fought on Omaha Beach. In Native folklore, they are known as the boys from Turtle Island, so it features a large granite turtle.

Although he works to honor their sacrifice, Shay – a veteran of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, 16th Infantry Regiment, Fox Company – emphasizes that remembrance encompasses all who serve.

“It’s not only Native Americans it’s all soldiers, from every nation, that participated in the invasion of Europe. We do not want to forget them.”

When Shay was a boy Native Americans faced systematic discrimination, having not been granted U.S. citizenship rights until the month of his birth. But his mother successfully fought to get him an education at a better, all-white school, going so far as to write to then President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Shay and his three brothers all served their country in World War Two, and they all survived. Asked how he views the end of his days, he is unflinching.

“Am I afraid of death? No, no.”

(Writing by Rachel Joyner; Editing by Luke Baker and John Stonestreet)

British cigarettes, a body in the road: memories of D-Day

Yves Faucon, 86, from Tilly-sur-Seulle in the Normandie region visits his town's military cemetery as he attends an interview with Reuters in Tilly-sur-Seulle, France, May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

By Richard Lough

TILLY-SUR-SEULLES, France (Reuters) – It is the sounds and smell of war that are indelibly imprinted in the memory of Yves Faucon, who was 12 when allied troops landed in Normandy and set about driving Nazi Germany’s forces out of France.

“I remember seeing a German body lying on the road and a column of British tanks advancing. One ran over the body,” recalled Faucon, now 87. “It made a grim noise.”

Faucon’s village of Tilly-sur-Seulles, south of Bayeux, lay on the frontline of the allied push toward the city of Caen. The village was won and then lost by the British more than 20 times over a three-week period.

“One morning some Brits arrived and chatted with us. I’ll always remember the smell of their English tobacco. It wasn’t something we were used to.”

More than 150,000 allied soldiers stormed the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944, bursting through German coastal defenses to open the way to the liberation of western Europe from the Nazi regime.

Seventy-five years later, French President Emmanuel Macron, U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May will attend ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the largest seaborne invasion in history and the soldiers who gave their lives.

Faucon’s widowed mother ran their family-owned hotel in Tilly-sur-Seulles. It was requisitioned by the Germans and as many as 250 German soldiers were holed up in the building. One lunchtime, Faucon said, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who commanded the 7th Panzer Division during the 1940 invasion of France, ate there.

Yves Faucon, 86, from Tilly-sur-Seulle in the Normandie region shows a photograph of his mother's hotel in downtown Tilly, which was destroyed during operationsÊafter D-Day, as he attends an interview with Reuters in Tilly-sur-Seulle, France, May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Yves Faucon, 86, from Tilly-sur-Seulle in the Normandie region shows a photograph of his mother’s hotel in downtown Tilly, which was destroyed during operationsÊafter D-Day, as he attends an interview with Reuters in Tilly-sur-Seulle, France, May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

“A German soldier watched on as she (Faucon’s mother) cooked for Rommel. She said to him: ‘If I was going to poison a German I would have done it already’.”

Faucon was awoken at dawn on the morning of the landings by a schoolmaster who told him to dress quickly and grab a blanket, as the incessant pounding of artillery on the coast 20km (12.4 miles) north reverberated through the air.

“They put us in a roadside ditch. We hid there the whole day, 80 of us,” said Faucon, who still lives in the village that lay in ruins by the time it was liberated. “The first English soldiers we saw were flanked by Germans. They were prisoners.”

The British forces suffered heavy losses in the battle for control of Tilly-sur-Seulles, fighting which forced the Faucon family to seek refuge in neighboring villages and remote homesteads.

Outside Tilly-sur-Seulles, flowers are planted at the feet of more than 1,200 crosses in a manicured war cemetery, most of them marking the final resting place of British soldiers.

“When you read these headstones, many of them say ‘Rest in Peace’. But they didn’t know peace,” said Kenneth Loughman, a retired U.S. Navy chaplain who served in Vietnam and was visiting the region’s memorials. “We gotta end going to war.”

(Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Blood and thunder at sea: British veteran remembers D-Day

D-Day veteran Richard Llewellyn poses for a photograph on HMS Belfast, on the River Thames in London, Britain May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Alex Fraser

By Andrew MacAskill and Iona Serrapica

LONDON (Reuters) – Seventy-five years ago, a young British sailor stood on the bridge of a warship, its gun barrels pointing out to the coast of France and watched the devastation being rained down on a country he wanted to liberate.

Today, Richard Llewellyn, 93, is among the dwindling number of veterans of the Allied D-Day invasion of Normandy; an operation that turned the tide of World War Two and marked the beginning of the end of the conflict.

The invasion of France is usually told as the story of brave, young men struggling across beaches and fighting their way inland. However, another battle unfolded at sea that day, between the Allied ships and the massive German coastal guns.

Llewellyn describes the thunderous explosions rolling along the shore as every ship in the Allied fleet was blazing away. The enormous firepower sent shells pounding into the cliffs, churning earth, rock, and entire landscapes.

All the while the German battery guns blasted back. The men on the boats could hear the scream of the shells as they passed overhead. The engines of the bombers above added to the concussion of noise. Dead bodies floated in the sea.

Llewellyn compares the scene to watching a spectacular firework display. The warship guns belched out enormous orange balls of flames and mustard colored smoke. Some of the battleships fired 16-inch shells, almost as heavy as a car, and so big they could be seen as they went past.

“The noise was just unbelievable. One of the things that I remember afterwards more than anything else was the noise,” said Llewellyn, who was 18 at the time, and a midshipman on HMS Ajax, which was a light cruiser in the British navy.

“If you go to the cinema and you hear a lot of noise and gunfire and so on, it doesn’t really register. But if you are actually there the whole air is vibrating all the time.”

The assault by almost 7,000 ships and landing craft along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast remains the largest amphibious invasion in history.

In the decades since, the invasion has become a touchstone for the leaders of Britain, the United States, France and other western countries who will gather in Normandy next month to invoke the heroism. The event will take place as the trans-Atlantic relationships that D-Day forged are fraying.

Differences over military spending for the NATO alliance, disagreements over how to approach the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union have raised tensions in the decades-old alliance.

SEABORNE ASSAULT

These concerns are a far cry from the epic mobilization of military machinery and manpower that resulted in the invasion of France in 1944. Then, tens of thousands of men piled into ships and planes to cross the English Channel.

Llewellyn, who has a white goatee and is smartly dressed in a navy jacket and beret for his interview on the HMS Belfast in London, is eloquent and perfectly recalls the events that day. He effortlessly climbs the ship’s steep steps without help.

He said the mood among the men as they crossed the sea was more anticipation than fear or tension.

“It was exciting,” he said. “We were far more patriotic in those days than we are now. We knew that the Germans had to be defeated and anything had to be done to make it possible.”

He dismisses the idea that people were praying or savoring their last meal as the invasion began.

“We weren’t Americans, I am afraid,” he said with a chuckle.

THE LUCKIEST SHOT

Although only a teenager, his experiences living through the German bombardment of London, known as the Blitz, meant he was familiar with being bombed.

On D-Day, Llewellyn’s ship was engaged in a duel with German gun batteries, particularly those at Longues-sur-Mer, nestled high on the cliff tops, situated between where British and American troops were landing on the Gold and Omaha beaches.

In what was perhaps one of the most accurate or luckiest shots of the war, his ship situated a few miles offshore, scored a direct hit, landing a heavy shell through the narrow slit of one of the fortifications.

On the bridge of the ship, Llewellyn watched the invasion through binoculars as the haze of smoke shrouded the shore.

“There were landing craft destroyed,” he said. “They really met a hostile reception and you could see that and you could see the landing craft being hit by shells, there were a lot of fires.”

As his ship continued to shell the German positions it faced its own threat from mines, shelling, and the Luftwaffe, the German air force.

At one point, a German plane dropped a bomb that landed just a few meters from his boat. The explosion winded him and sent the ship violently swaying from side to side.

Was it terrifying?

“I suppose it was in a way,” he said with typical understatement.

Llewellyn survived the onslaught and the Allies conquered the coastline. He plans to attend the D-Day anniversary in Normandy next month.

He has been back several times and says it is an emotional experience, particularly visiting the graveyards.

But he also feels guilty about the destruction caused to France, particularly as the navy began firing shells at targets further inland, some of which fell in nearby villages.

“The ordinary citizens come up and say how grateful they are. I found that quite difficult to take actually. I don’t feel that we had done anything special, especially for them,” he said. “Their homes were knocked down by shells and troops. Unfortunately, war leaves a lot of destruction.”

(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

French police fire tear gas at protesters in Paris May Day rally

A protester wearing a yellow vest holds a French flag as he walks among tear gas during the traditional May Day labour union march with French unions and yellow vests protesters in Paris, France, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

By Clotaire Achi and Benoit Tessier

PARIS (Reuters) – French police fired tear gas to push back masked demonstrators in central Paris on Wednesday as thousands of people used an annual May Day rally to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s policies.

Labor unions and so-called “yellow vest” protesters were on the streets across France, days after Macron outlined a response to months of street protests that included tax cuts worth around 5 billion euros ($5.6 billion).

A Reuters journalist saw riot police use tear gas to disperse a group of hooded and masked protesters who had converged at the front of the traditional May Day labor union march in Paris.

Some protesters wearing hoods or yellow vests responded by throwing projectiles at the police. Television footage showed a van with its windows smashed. Several people were lightly wounded.

By mid-afternoon, the main march crossing the southern part of the capital was finally able to move amid relative calm, although it appeared that yellow-vests and more radical elements rather than labor unions were dominating the march. The hard left CGT union denounced police violence.

People including protesters wearing yellow vests gather near La Rotonde restaurant during the traditional May Day labour union march in Paris, France, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

People including protesters wearing yellow vests gather near La Rotonde restaurant during the traditional May Day labour union march in Paris, France, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

“While the inter-union procession was to start at 14:30 (1230 GMT), unprecedented and indiscriminate repression took place following the acts of violence by some parties,” the union said in a statement. It said union members including the CGT secretary general had been tear-gassed, adding, “This current scenario, scandalous and unprecedented, is unacceptable in our democracy.”

A Reuters photographer saw several masked protesters removing their outfits to merge into the crowd.

French police had warned on Tuesday that there could be clashes with far-left anarchist groups, known as Black Blocs, after calls on social media for radicals to hit the streets.

Authorities had said they expected some 2,000 Black Bloc protesters from France and across Europe to turn up on the sidelines of the traditional May Day union rallies.

Some 7,400 police were deployed in Paris and made 200 arrests.

The “yellow vest” protests, named after motorists’ high-visibility jackets, began in November over fuel tax increases but have evolved into a sometimes violent revolt against politicians and a government seen as out of touch.

Many in the grassroots movement, which lacks a leadership structure, have said Macron’s proposals do not go far enough and most of what he announced lacks detail.

Thousands of people also demonstrated in cities from Marseille to Toulouse and Bordeaux. Some 300 yellow-vest protesters tried to storm a police station in the Alpine town of Besancon.

“We have been trying to fight, to make ourselves heard, for six months and nobody cares. People don’t understand the movement, though it seems pretty simple: We just want to live normally,” said Florence, 58, a trainer in a large company who was marching in Paris.

(Additional reporting by Ardee Soriano, Elizabeth Pineau and Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

France’s Macron offers tax cuts to quell ‘yellow vest’ protests

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a news conference to unveil his policy response to the yellow vests protest, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron pledged on Thursday to cut tax further and said the French would have to work more as he outlined his response to months of anti-government protests that have challenged his authority.

Two years into his presidency, Macron is under pressure to deliver policies to quell the five-month old “yellow vest” movement, after a first salvo of measures worth 10 billion euros ($11.13 billion) last December failed to put the genie back in the bottle.

Macron said he wanted a “significant” cut in income tax, which would be financed by closing loopholes, squeezing government spending, but the French would also have to work more.

Although the number of demonstrators has declined since a peak in November, protesters clashed with police for a 23rd straight week last Saturday.

Thursday’s response is the result of a three-month long national debate, during which Macron rolled up his sleeves to discuss issues from high taxes to local democracy and decaying shopping streets with mayors, students and hard-up workers.

He stuck to his guns on Thursday, however, about the bulk of reforms his government has already implemented.

“I asked myself: Should we stop everything that was done over the past two years? Did we take a wrong turn? I believe quite the opposite,” Macron told a news conference, the first of his presidency in the Elysee Palace.

The street rebellion erupted over planned diesel tax hikes last November but morphed into a broader backlash against inequality and a political elite perceived as having lost touch with the common person.

Macron, who swept to power promising to “transform France” and “make work pay”, has seen his ambitious reform agenda derailed by the unrest. Pension and unemployment insurance reforms planned for 2019 have made little progress so far.

(Reporting by Michel Rose, Marine Pennetier, Jean-Baptiste Vey; writing by Leigh Thomas, Editing by Sarah White)

French interior minister warns of yellow-vest riots on Saturday

FILE PHOTO: Protesters wearing yellow vests attend a demonstration during the Act XXI (the 21st consecutive national protest on Saturday) of the yellow vests movement at the financial district of La Defense near Paris, France, April 6, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) – The French interior minister warned on Friday that violence could flare up on the 23rd Saturday of yellow-vest protests, as authorities banned marches around the fire-gutted Notre-Dame cathedral.

The warning comes after weeks of relative calm, with the marches attracting declining numbers as yellow-vest protesters waited for President Emmanuel Macron’s expected response to their various demands which include lower taxes and more government services.

Christophe Castaner, the interior minister, said domestic intelligence services had informed him of a potential return of rioters intent on wreaking havoc in Paris, Toulouse, Montpellier and Bordeaux, in a repeat of violent protests on March 16.

That day, hooded gangs ransacked stores on Paris’s famed Champs-Elysees avenue, set fire to a bank and forced Macron to cut short a ski trip in the Pyrenees.

“The rioters will be back tomorrow,” Castaner told a press conference. “Their proclaimed aim: a repeat of March 16,” he said. “The rioters have visibly not been moved by what happened at Notre-Dame.”

Castaner said that planned marches that would have come near the medieval church on the central island on the Seine river had been banned, while one march from Saint-Denis, north of Paris, to Jussieu university on the Left Bank, had been authorized.

The catastrophic fire at Notre-Dame cathedral on Monday, one of France’s best-loved monuments, prompted an outpouring of national sorrow and a rush by rich families and corporations to pledge around 1 billion euro ($1.12 billion)for its reconstruction.

That has angered some yellow-vest protesters, who have expressed disgust at the fact their five-month-old movement, which started as an anti-fuel tax protest last year, has not received the same generous donations by France’s elite.

“I’m sorry, and with all due respect to our heritage, but I am just taken aback by these astronomic amounts!” Ingrid Levavasseur, one of the yellow vests’ most recognizable public faces, said on her Facebook page.

“After five months on the streets, this is totally at odds with what we have seen,” she said.

The yellow vest movement poses the biggest challenge so far to Macron’s authority two years into his presidency.

The French leader was due to unveil policies to quell the grassroot movement on Monday, before the blaze at Notre-Dame forced him to cancel the speech. He has yet to set a new date for the announcements.

(Reporting by Danielle Rouquié, writing by Michel Rose; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

Climate change protesters descend on France’s SocGen, energy companies

Environmental activists block the entrance of the Ministry of Ecology, Energy and Sustainable Development during a "civil disobedience action" to urge world leaders to act against climate change, in La Defense near Paris, France, April 19, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

By Bate Felix

PARIS (Reuters) – Climate activists blocked thousands of employees from entering the headquarters of French bank Societe Generale, state-run utility EDF and oil giant Total on Friday, environmental group Greenpeace said.

Greenpeace said it was protesting against company links to the oil and gas industry, which it calls a driving force in global warming. Activists also obstructed the entrance to the environment ministry near La Defense business district.

Protesters plastered giant posters of President Emmanuel Macron carrying the slogan “Macron, President of Polluters” and a banner reading “Scene of Climate Crime” on the glass facade of Societe Generale, Reuters TV images showed.

Police pepper-sprayed one group blocking the bank’s main entrance in a sit-down protest.

Some demonstrators taped themselves together while others cuffed themselves with plastic ties to metal poles to make it harder for police to dislodge them.

Employees in business suits milled around outside their offices. “I just want to get inside and on with my work,” one frustrated bank employee said.

Greenpeace and action group Les Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth) have previously criticized Societe Generale for its role in financing oil and gas projects, in particular the Rio Grande LNG gas project in the United States.

A Societe Generale spokesman declined to comment.

ACTION NOT EASY

A spokesman for EDF, which relies heavily on nuclear and hydropower plants to generate electricity, said 96 percent of its power was carbon dioxide-free. He said EDF was committed to curbing its total carbon footprint by 40 percent by 2030.

A Total spokeswoman said two senior company executives had held talks with representatives of Greenpeace and Les Amis de la Terre.

At an oil industry summit in Paris on Friday, Total Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne acknowledged the climate change protests.

The Societe Generale logo is covered by molasses representing oil as Environmental activists block the entrance to the headquarters of the French bank Societe Generale during a "civil disobedience action" to urge world leaders to act against climate change, in La Defense near Paris, France, April 19, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

The Societe Generale logo is covered by molasses representing oil as Environmental activists block the entrance to the headquarters of the French bank Societe Generale during a “civil disobedience action” to urge world leaders to act against climate change, in La Defense near Paris, France, April 19, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

“Many people are demonstrating in Paris and are asking for more action. We all know it is not so easy because the population’s primary request is for access to more energy, affordable energy and it has to be clean,” he said.

He added that Total was trying to address climate change by improving the efficiency of its operations, growing its natural gas business and developing an electricity business based on low-carbon gas and renewables.

He also said Total had increased its output to 2.95 million barrels of oil equivalent per day this year, passing its 2018 record, aided by increased production in Australia, Angola, Nigeria and Russia.

Friday’s protest echoed a series by the Extinction Rebellion group of climate-change campaigners in London this week that have caused transport snarl-ups in the British capital.

Teenage demonstrators staged an emotional protest, weeping and singing, at political inaction on climate change near London’s Heathrow Airport on Friday.

(Reporting by Antony Paone, Bate Felix, Inti Landauro and Geert De Clercq; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

French President Macron hopes to rebuild Notre-Dame in five years

A view of the damaged roof and debris inside Notre-Dame de Paris in the aftermath of a fire that devastated the cathedral, during the visit of French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner (not pictured) in Paris, France, April 16, 2019. Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool via REUTERS

By Richard Lough and Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS (Reuters) – President Emmanuel Macron pledged on Tuesday that France would rebuild the fire-devastated Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, saying he hoped the work would be done in five years and the French people would pull together to repair their national symbol.

A view of the debris inside Notre-Dame de Paris in the aftermath of a fire that devastated the cathedral, during the visit of French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner (not pictured) in Paris, France, April 16, 2019. Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool via REUTERS

Macron devoted a brief prime-time televised address to Monday’s catastrophic blaze in the heart of the capital, again postponing planned remarks on his response to months of anti-government protests.

“We will rebuild Notre-Dame even more beautifully and I want it to be completed in five years, we can do it,” Macron said.

“It is up to us to convert this disaster into an opportunity to come together, having deeply reflected on what we have been and what we have to be and become better than we are. It is up to us to find the thread of our national project.”

“This is not a time for politics,” added Macron, who had canceled a speech planned on Monday evening on the response to the “yellow vest” protests.

He visited the site of the fire late on Monday and promised then to rebuild the cathedral, parts of which date to the 12th century.

French firefighters are seen in the towers inside Notre-Dame de Paris in the aftermath of a fire that devastated the cathedral, in Paris, France, April 16, 2019. Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool via REUTERS

French firefighters are seen in the towers inside Notre-Dame de Paris in the aftermath of a fire that devastated the cathedral, in Paris, France, April 16, 2019. Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool via REUTERS

The cathedral spire was destroyed and its roof gutted but the bell towers were still standing and many valuable artworks were saved after more than 400 firemen worked to contain the blaze, finally quelling it 14 hours after it began.

As the city and the country grieved for a potent national symbol, billionaires, companies and local authorities were quick to offer donations.

Some 24 hours after the fire started, more than 750 million euros ($845 million) had been pledged, including 500 million from the three billionaire families that own France’s giant luxury goods empires: Kering, LVMH and L’Oreal.

Paris public prosecutor Remy Heitz said there was no obvious indication the fire was arson. Fifty people were working on what would be a long and complex investigation, officials said.

 

The fire swiftly ripped through the cathedral’s oak roof supports, where workmen had been carrying out extensive renovations to the spire’s timber-framed supports. Police began questioning the workers involved, the prosecutor’s office said.

One firefighter was injured but no one else was hurt, with the fire starting at around 6:30 p.m. after the building was closed to the public for the evening.

Firefighters examined the facade, with its spectacular 10-metre filigreed stained-glass rose window still intact. They could be seen walking atop the belfries as police kept the area in lockdown.

Investigators will not be able to enter the cathedral’s blackened nave until experts are satisfied its walls withstood the heat and the building is structurally sound.

“Yesterday we thought the whole cathedral would collapse. Yet this morning she is still standing, valiant, despite everything,” said Sister Marie Aimee, a nun who had hurried to a nearby church to pray as the flames spread.

“CATHEDRAL OF THE PEOPLE”

Messages of condolence flooded in from around the world.

Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, was praying for those affected, the Vatican said, adding: “Notre-Dame will always remain – and we have seen this in these hours – a place where believers and non-believers can come together in the most dramatic moments of French history.”

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth expressed deep sadness while her son and heir Prince Charles said he was “utterly heartbroken”. Chancellor Angela Merkel offered German help to rebuild a part of “our common European heritage”.

Considered among the finest examples of European Gothic architecture, Notre-Dame is visited by more than 13 million people a year. It sits on an island in the Seine, overlooking the Left Bank hangouts of Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso.

“Notre-Dame de Paris is the cathedral of the people, of the people of Paris, of the French people, of the people of the world. It is part of those references of our history, of what we have in common, of what we share,” said Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.

It was at Notre-Dame that Henry VI of England was crowned “King of France” in 1431, that Napoleon was made emperor in 1804, and Pope Pius X beatified Joan of Arc in 1909. Presidents Charles de Gaulle and Francois Mitterrand were mourned there.

HUMAN CHAIN

The cathedral is owned by the state and has been at the centre of a dispute between the nation and the Paris archdiocese over who should finance restoration work to collapsed balustrades, crumbling gargoyles and cracked facades.

It was too early to estimate the cost of the damage, said the heritage charity Fondation du Patrimoine.

Paolo Violini, a restoration specialist for Vatican museums, said the pace of the fire’s spread had been stunning.

“We are used to thinking about them as eternal simply because they have been there for centuries, or a thousand years, but the reality is they are very fragile,” Violini said.

The company carrying out the renovation works when the blaze broke out said it would cooperate fully with the investigation.

“All I can tell you is that at the moment the fire began none of my employees were on the site. We respected all procedures,” Julien Le Bras, a representative of family firm Le Bras Freres.

Many relics and artworks were saved. At one point, firefighters, policemen and municipal workers formed a human chain to remove the treasures, including a centuries-old crown of thorns made from reeds and gold, and the tunic believed to have been worn by Saint Louis, a 13th century king of France.

Gold, silver and gem-inlaid chalices, candelabras and many other artefacts survived the blaze.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Inti Landauro, Richard Lough, Sarah White, Emmanuel Jarry, Luke Baker and John Irish in Paris; Additional reporting by Philip Pullella in Rome and Michelle Martin in Berlin; Writing by Richard Lough and Frances Kerry; Editing by Leigh Thomas, Peter Graff and Alison Williams)

Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris is engulfed by fire

Sparks fill the air as Paris Fire brigade members spray water to extinguish flames as the Notre Dame Cathedral burns in Paris, France, April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

By Sybille de La Hamaide and Julie Carriat

PARIS (Reuters) – A massive fire consumed Notre-Dame Cathedral on Monday, destroying the roof of the historic Paris landmark in a roaring blaze as firefighters battled to prevent one of the main bell towers from collapsing.

Flames that began in the early evening burst rapidly through the roof of the centuries-old cathedral and engulfed the spire, which toppled, quickly followed by the entire roof.

Distraught Parisians and stunned tourists gazed in disbelief as the inferno raged. Thousands of onlookers lined bridges over the River Seine and along its embankments, held at a distance by a police cordon.

“We’re not certain yet that we’ll be able to stop the fire from spreading to the northern belfry,” a firefighting official told reporters.

World leaders expressed shock and sent condolences to the French people. President Emmanuel Macron said the whole nation was distressed. “Like all our compatriots, I am sad this evening to see this part of all of us burn,” he tweeted.

A huge plume of smoke wafted across the city and ash fell over a large area. People watching gasped as the spire folded over onto itself and fell into the inferno.

At around 1930 GMT, nearly three hours after the fire started, a Fire Department spokesman said the next 90 minutes would be crucial in seeing if the blaze could be contained.

“Basically the whole rooftop is gone. I see no hope for the building,” said witness Jacek Poltorak, watching the fire from a fifth-floor balcony two blocks from the southern facade of the cathedral, one of France’s most visited sites.

Firefighters tried to contain the blaze with water hoses and cleared the area around Notre-Dame, which sits on an island in the River Seine and marks the very center of Paris. Witnesses said the whole island, the Ile de la Cite, was being evacuated.

Nobody was injured, junior interior minister Laurent Nunez said at the scene, adding: “It’s too early to determine the causes of the fire.”

The Paris prosecutor’s office said it had launched an inquiry into the fire. Several police sources said that they were working on the assumption for now that the fire was accidental.

“Everything is collapsing,” a police officer near the scene said as the cathedral continued to burn.

Macron, who cancelled an address to the nation that he had been due to give on Monday evening, went to the scene of the blaze and talked to officials trying to contain it.

The French Civil Security service, possibly responding to U.S. President Donald Trump’s suggestion that firefighters “act quickly” and employ flying water tankers, said that was not an option as it might destroy the entire building.

“Helicopter or plane, the weight of the water and the intensity of dropping it at low altitude could weaken the structure of Notre-Dame and cause collateral damage to surrounding buildings,” it tweeted.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the cathedral a “symbol of France and our European culture”. British Prime Minister Theresa May said her thoughts were with the French people and emergency services fighting the “terrible blaze”.

The Vatican said the fire at the “symbol of Christianity in France and in the world” had caused shock and sadness and said it was praying for the firefighters.

Smoke billows as fire engulfs the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Smoke billows as fire engulfs the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

SYMBOL OF PARIS

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said at the scene that some of many artworks that were in the cathedral had been taken out and were being put in safe storage.

The cathedral, which dates back to the 12th century, features in Victor Hugo’s classic novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site that attracts millions of tourists every year.

It is a focal point for French Roman Catholics who like Christians around the world are celebrating Holy Week, marking the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The archbishop of Paris called on all priests in Paris to ring church bells as a gesture of solidarity for Notre-Dame.

“I have a lot of friends who live abroad and every time they come I tell them to go to Notre-Dame,” said witness Samantha Silva, with tears in her eyes.

“I’ve visited it so many times, but it will never be the same. It’s a real symbol of Paris.”

The cathedral was in the midst of renovations, with some sections under scaffolding, and bronze statues were removed last week for works.

Built over a century starting in 1163, Notre-Dame is considered to be among the finest examples of French Gothic cathedral architecture.

It is renowned for its rib vaulting, flying buttresses and stunning stained glass windows, as well as its many carved stone gargoyles.

Its 100-metre-long (330-foot) roof, of which a large section was consumed in the first hour of the blaze, was one of the oldest such structures in Paris, according to the cathedral’s website.

A center of Roman Catholic faith, over the centuries Notre-Dame has also been a target of political upheaval.

It was ransacked by rioting Protestant Huguenots in the 16th century, pillaged again during the French Revolution of the 1790s and left in a state of semi-neglect. Hugo’s 1831 work led to revived interest in the cathedral and a major “partly botched” restoration that began in 1844.

The wood-and-lead spire was built during that restoration, according to the cathedral’s website.

“Notre-Dame belonged to all humanity. What a tragic spectacle,” tweeted Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Union’s executive Commission.

“What horror. I share the French nation’s sadness.”

(Reporting by Sybille de la Hamaide and Julie Carriat; Additional reporting by Leigh Thomas, Simon Carraud, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Michel Rose, Emmanuel Jarry, Jean-Baptiste Vey, Marine Pennetier, Sarah White, Tim Hepher, Laurence Frost in Paris, Kylie MacLellan in London, Paul Carrel in Berlin, Philip Pullella in Rome; Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Frances Kerry)