G7 or G5? Trump and Johnson add unpredictability to French summit

A view shows the beach and Le Bellevue summit venue ahead of the G7 Summit in the French coastal resort of Biarritz, France, August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

By John Irish and Marine Pennetier

PARIS (Reuters) – Brexit Britain’s overtures to U.S. President Donald Trump risk further complicating the search for common ground this weekend at a Group of Seven summit already clouded by transatlantic rifts over trade, Iran and climate change.

The summit host, President Emmanuel Macron of France, has set the bar low for Biarritz to avoid a repeat of the fiasco last year when Trump threw Canada’s G7 summit into disarray by leaving early, scotching the final communique.

Macron, an ardent europhile and staunch defender of multilateralism, will count on incremental advances in areas where a united front can be presented, with the meeting, which runs from Saturday to Monday, officially focusing on the broad theme of reducing inequality.

On hot-button issues, they will, when necessary, have to agree to disagree.

“We have to adapt formats. There will be no final communique, but coalitions, commitments and follow-ups,” Macron said. “We must assume that, on one subject or another, a member of the club might not sign up.”

The G7 groups the United States, France, Britain, Japan, Germany, Italy and Canada, and the European Union also attends. Macron has also invited the leaders of Australia, Burkina Faso, Chile, Egypt, India, Senegal, Rwanda and South Africa, in order to widen the debate on inequality.

TOUGH TOPICS

But the tougher discussions lie elsewhere. The Sino-U.S. trade war has spurred fears of a global economic slump; European powers are struggling to defuse tensions between Washington and Tehran; and Trump has shown little enthusiasm for France’s push for a universal tax on digital multinationals such as Google and Amazon, and turned his back on efforts in Europe and around the globe to limit carbon emissions to slow climate change.

The crisis in Kashmir and street protests in Hong Kong may also be touched on during the talks in France’s Atlantic coast surfing capital, where some 13,000 police will be drafted in to prevent any violent anti-globalization demonstrations.

“There’s no doubt that we will discuss how trade frictions could affect the global economy,” a Japanese government official said. “But it is difficult to deliver messages to the outside since a communique won’t be issued.”

Strained relations between the United States and its top allies mean that where once they were in agreement, they now seek the lowest common denominator.

“It won’t be productive to push something that someone — whether it’s America or some other country — would not agree to do,” the Japanese official added.

Moreover, Italy’s prime minister resigned on Tuesday, Canada is heading for an election, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s influence on the world stage is waning ahead of her departure, and Britain is probably on the verge of either leaving the EU or a snap election.

POLITICAL NITROGLYCERINE

One unknown is where British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will position himself, making his debut on the global stage at a summit that will lay bare new realities as Britain’s influence in Europe collapses and its dependency on the United States grows.

With less than three months to go before the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU – with or without a divorce deal, according to Johnson – his government has sought to cozy up to Trump’s White House with a view to future trade deals.

Francois Heisbourg of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said the combination of two personalities “not well-known for their self-control” was “political nitroglycerine”.

He said it might be entertaining, “but if it actually gets in the way of more substantive proceedings, that would be another story”.

While Johnson will want to avoid crossing a volatile Trump and putting trade ties at risk, analysts say, he will also be wary of alienating himself from other leaders who have a more multilateral approach to world politics.

One French diplomat who declined to be named said Paris was curious to see how the Trump-Johnson dynamic played out in Biarritz:

“Even with Brexit in the background, we still have the sense that the British reflex when it comes to international crises is to turn to us and the Germans first.”

(Additional reporting by Lucien Libert in Paris and Tetsushi Kajimoto in Tokyo; Editing by Richard Lough and Kevin Liffey)

Notre-Dame toxic fallout lawsuit turns heat on Paris authorities

FILE PHOTO: A view shows the damaged roof of Notre-Dame de Paris during restoration work, three months after a fire that devastated the cathedral in Paris, France, July 14, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) – An environmental protection group has filed a suit alleging lives were deliberately endangered after the fire that ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, saying authorities failed to protect people from lead that spewed into the area.

The April 15 inferno melted hundreds of tonnes of lead in the cathedral’s spire and roof. Unusually high levels of lead were later detected in the air and nearby buildings, including primary schools.

Campaign group Robin des Bois filed a lawsuit dated July 26 against unknown persons, alleging that authorities in Paris were aware the fire had dispersed large quantities of lead into the air and that lead is toxic.

Authorities failed to provide adequate warnings of potential lead poisoning to local residents, tourists and workers on the site before and after the blaze, the suit says.

The authorities’ actions meant there was exposure to toxic fallout and that “lives were deliberately endangered”, Robin des Bois said in its complaint, filed with the Paris prosecutor.

Paris City Hall declined to comment.

The prosecutor will next determine whether the complaint merits deeper investigation.

Health officials have said people living and working in the vicinity of the cathedral were kept informed of risks and safety measures. Nearby residents were advised to wipe down surfaces with a damp cloth.

In June, after unusually high lead levels were detected in a child, pregnant women and young children were invited to get tested for lead levels in their blood.

More than three months after the fire, the Paris prefect suspended restoration work on the cathedral on July 25 until more robust decontamination measures have been put in place. The same day, the mayor’s office temporarily closed a nursery and primary school that were hosting a holiday club for a “deep clean” after high lead levels were detected.

The cathedral’s spire and roof, which collapsed in the fire, contained more than 450 tonnes of lead.

(Reporting by Emilie Delwarde; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Iran says meeting with parties to nuclear deal ‘constructive’

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi and EEAS Secretary General Helga Schmid attend a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria July 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kirsti Knolle

By Kirsti Knolle

VIENNA (Reuters) – An emergency meeting with parties to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal was constructive but there are unresolved issues and Tehran will continue to reduce its nuclear commitments if Europeans fail to salvage the pact, Iranian official Abbas Araqchi said on Sunday.

“The atmosphere was constructive. Discussions were good. I cannot say that we resolved everything, I can say there are lots of commitments,” Araqchi, the senior Iranian nuclear negotiator, told reporters after the meeting in Vienna.

Parties to the agreement – Britain, Germany and France plus Russia and China – met Iranian officials for talks called in response to an escalation in tensions between Iran and the West that included confrontations at sea and Tehran’s breaches of the nuclear accord.

“As we have said, we will continue to reduce our commitments to the deal until Europeans secure Iran’s interests under the deal,” Araqchi said.

The parties have been trying to salvage the pact since the United States withdrew from it in May 2018 and re-imposed and toughened sanctions on Iran, crippling an already weak economy.

The Europeans say further breaches of the agreement by Iran would escalate confrontation at a time when Tehran and Washington are at risk of a miscalculation that could lead to war.

However, their efforts to protect trade with Iran against the U.S. sanctions have yielded nothing concrete so far. Earlier this month, Tehran followed through on its threat to increase its nuclear activities in breach of the agreement.

Iran has said it will withdraw from the pact unless the Europeans find ways to shield its economy from the U.S. sanctions.

“All our steps taken so far are reversible if other parties to the deal fulfill their commitments,” an Iranian diplomat told Reuters ahead of the meeting.

In response to the sanctions, Iran said in May it would decrease its commitments under the nuclear pact. Under the deal, most international sanctions against Tehran were lifted in 2016, in exchange for limitations on its nuclear work.

So far, Iran has breached the limit of its enriched uranium stockpile as well as enriching uranium beyond a 3.67% purity limit set by its deal with major powers, defying a warning by Europeans to stick to the deal despite U.S. sanctions.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog, policing the deal, has confirmed the measures announced by Tehran.

SANCTIONS

Fu Cong, director-general of the Department of Arms Control of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, who leads the Chinese delegation, said: “All sides have expressed their commitment to safeguard the JCPOA (nuclear deal) and to continue to implement the JCPOA in a balanced manner.

“All sides have expressed their strong opposition against the U.S. unilateral imposition of sanctions.”

The meeting came after Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards seized a British-flagged oil tanker on July 19, two weeks after British forces captured an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar which it said was violating sanctions on Syria.

Araqchi said Britain’s seizure of the Iranian tanker was a violation of the nuclear pact.

“The countries who are part of (the nuclear deal) shouldn’t create obstacles for the export of Iranian oil,” Araqchi said.

Britain has called for a European-led naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, a vital international oil shipping route. An Iranian government spokesman said on Sunday such a mission would send a “hostile message”.

Britain said on Sunday Royal Navy destroyer HMS Duncan had arrived in the Gulf to join a British frigate escorting British-flagged ships through the Strait.

The seizure of the British tanker in the world’s most important waterway for the oil trade has deepened a crisis between Iran and the West. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Britain’s seizure of the Iranian oil tanker was illegal and would be detrimental for Britain.

After meeting Iranian officials in Tehran, Oman’s Foreign Minister Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah said all parties should maintain contact to avoid more incidents in the Strait.

Iran has threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the waterway if the United States tries to strangle its economy with sanctions on its vital oil exports.

Several oil tankers were attacked in waters near Iran’s southern coast in May and June, for which the United States blamed Iran. Tehran denied any involvement.

Iran in June shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone in the Gulf, which Tehran said had violated its air space. Washington said the drone was in international skies.

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi, Aziz El Yaakoubi and Lisa Barrington in Dubai and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva, Writing by Parisa Hafezi,; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Climate records tumble as Europe swelters in heatwave

A temperature indicator outside of a pharmacy indicates 42 degres Celsius (107.6 Fahrenheit) in Brussels, Belgium, July 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

PARIS/LONDON (Reuters) – Soaring temperatures broke records in France, Britain and the Netherlands on Thursday as a heatwave gripped Europe for the second time in a month, in what scientists said were becoming more frequent events as the planet heats up.

Tourists shield themselves from the sun with umbrellas as temperatures reach new record highs in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, July 25, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Tourists shield themselves from the sun with umbrellas as temperatures reach new record highs in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, July 25, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

As a cauldron of hot air from the Sahara desert moved across the continent, drawn northwards by high pressure, Paris recorded its highest temperature since records began and Britain reported its hottest weather for the month of July.

The unusual conditions brought a reduction in French and German nuclear power output, disrupted rail travel in parts of Britain and sent some Europeans, not habitual users of air conditioning in their homes, out to the shops in search of fans.

Health authorities issued warnings to the elderly, especially vulnerable to spikes in temperature.

“It’s very hot at the moment. I saw 42 degrees (Celsius) is forecast for today,” said 19-year-old French tourist Ombeline Massot in the capital’s Montmartre district, where visitors drank chilled bottles of water and fanned themselves.

Shortly after she spoke, the mercury touched 40.6 Celsius (105.08° Fahrenheit) in the French capital, above the previous Paris record of 40.4 C (104.72) recorded in July 1947.

In Britain, the temperature reached its highest for July, hitting 36.9 C (98.42 F), said the Met Office, the national weather service. The temperature, recorded at Heathrow, London, beat the previous July record of 36.7 C (98.06°F).

In the southern Netherlands, the temperature peaked at 40.4 Celsius (104.7 Fahrenheit), topping 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) for the first time on record, Dutch meteorology institute KNMI said. That broke the national record of 39.3 Celsius set the previous day. Before this week, the national heat record of 38.6 degrees had stood for 75 years.

The heat is expected to persist until Friday.

A boy plays with water in a fountain on a hot summer day in Brussels, Belgium, July 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

A boy plays with water in a fountain on a hot summer day in Brussels, Belgium, July 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

GLOBAL WARMING

Climate specialists said such heatwaves are becoming more frequent as a result of global warming from greenhouse gas emissions.

Britons were facing travel disruption, with trains being forced to slow down to prevent tracks buckling in the heat. Several train operators asked commuters not to travel or set off very early.

A Met Office study found that a heatwave like one that broke records last year was 30 times more likely to occur than in 1750 because of the high amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Since the pre-industrial period, the Earth’s surface temperature has risen by 1 degree Celsius.

“There is a 40-50% chance that this will be the warmest July on record. This heatwave is exactly in line with climate change predictions,” said Dr. Karsten Haustein at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford.

Peter Inness, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Reading, said: “The fact that so many recent years have had very high summer temperatures both globally and across Europe is very much in line with what we expect from man-made global warming.”

The heatwave in Britain is expected to come to an abrupt end on Friday with thunderstorms forecast for several parts of the country, the Met Office said.

Very high temperatures across Europe coupled with prolonged dry weather has reduced French nuclear power generation by around 5.2 gigawatts (GW) or 8%, French power grid operator RTE’s data showed.

Electricity output was curtailed at six reactors by 0840 GMT on Thursday, while two other reactors were offline, data showed. High water temperatures and sluggish flows limit the ability to use river water to cool reactors.

In Germany, PreussenElektra, the nuclear unit of utility E.ON, said it would take its Grohnde reactor offline on Friday due to high temperatures in the Weser river.

(Reporting by Nina Chestney in London, Richard Lough in Paris, Alexandra Regida in Brussels and Bart Meijer in Amsterdam; Editing by William Maclean and Peter Graff)

Iran on course to exceed nuclear pact limit within days: diplomats

FILE PHOTO: A general view of Bushehr nuclear power plant, 1,200 km (746 miles) south of Tehran, August 21, 2010. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

By Francois Murphy and Christopher Gallagher

VIENNA/TOKYO (Reuters) – Iran is on course to breach a threshold in its nuclear agreement with world powers within days by accumulating more enriched uranium than permitted, although it has not done so yet, diplomats said, citing the latest data from U.N. inspectors.

France, one of the European powers caught in the middle in an escalating confrontation between Washington and Tehran, said it would ask U.S. President Donald Trump to suspend some sanctions on Iran to allow negotiations to defuse the crisis.

A week after Trump called off air strikes on Iran minutes before impact, world leaders are trying to pull the two countries back from the brink, warning that a mistake on either side could lead to war.

“I want to convince Trump that it is in his interest to re-open a negotiation process (and) go back on certain sanctions to give negotiations a chance,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in Japan, where he is due to meet Trump on the sidelines of a summit in coming days.

A move by Tehran that clearly breached its 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers would transform the diplomatic landscape and probably force European countries to take sides.

Macron said he had two priorities: de-escalating military tension and keeping Iran from violating the accord, which European countries still hope to save even though Trump ignored their advice and quit it last year.

The latest data from U.N. inspectors suggested Iran had not yet violated the deal on Thursday, despite having named it as a day when it might do so.

“They haven’t reached the limit… It’s more likely to be at the weekend if they do it,” said one diplomat in Vienna, headquarters of the U.N. nuclear agency IAEA, on condition of anonymity.

“OBLITERATION”

The United States withdrew from the pact last year under which Iran accepted curbs on its nuclear program in return for access to international trade. Iran has said it wants to abide by the agreement but cannot do so indefinitely as new U.S. sanctions mean it is receiving none of the benefits.

The escalating crisis has put the United States in the position of demanding its European allies enforce Iranian compliance with an accord Washington itself rejects.

The United States sharply tightened its sanctions last month, ordering all countries to halt purchases of Iranian oil, the main source of revenue to feed Iran’s 80 million people.

Trump’s aborted air strikes last week were the culmination of weeks of heightened military tension. Washington accused Iran of being behind attacks on ships in the Gulf, which it denies.

Last week Iran shot down a U.S. drone it said was in its air space. The United States said it was in international skies.

Since the aborted air strikes last week there have been no major incidents, but rhetoric on both sides has become menacing.

This week Trump threatened Iran’s “obliteration” if it attacked U.S. interests while Rouhani, typically the mild-mannered face of the Tehran government, called White House policy “mentally retarded”. Trump later said he hoped to avoid war, which would be short and not involve boots on the ground.

IRANIAN RESPONSE

In the latest volley in the war of words, Iran’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani said the downing of the U.S. drone had taught Washington the cost of violating Iranian air space.

“Iran’s reaction will be stronger if they repeat their mistake of violating our borders,” Iran’s Tasnim news agency quoted Larijani as saying.

The Trump administration says its ultimate goal is to force Iran back to the table for negotiations. It argues that the 2015 deal, negotiated under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, was too weak because it is not permanent and does not cover non-nuclear issues, such as Iran’s missile program and regional behavior.

Iran says it cannot negotiate further unless the United States observes the existing agreement and lifts sanctions.

Tehran says Washington would be to blame if it ends up breaching the limit on uranium stockpiles, since the deal allows it to sell excess uranium abroad to reduce its holdings, but U.S. sanctions have prevented this.

It has set a separate deadline of July 7 when it could breach another major threshold, on the level of purity of uranium it has enriched.

(Additional reporting by Christopher Gallagher in Tokyo; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Notre Dame fire may have been caused by power fault or cigarette: prosecutors

The Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral is pictured after the first mass since the devastating fire in April, in Paris, France, June 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

PARIS (Reuters) – An electrical fault or a burning cigarette may have been responsible for the fire that gutted Notre-Dame Cathedral, French authorities investigating the cause of April’s blaze said on Wednesday.

Paris prosecutors said that, while they were investigating the possibility of negligence, they currently had no reason to believe the fire was started deliberately.

It ripped through the medieval cathedral on April 15, destroying the roof, toppling the spire and almost bringing down the main bell towers and outer walls before firefighters brought it under control.

“If certain failings, which may explain the scale of the fire, have been brought to light, the investigations carried out to this date have not yet been able to determine the causes of the fire,” said a statement from Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz.

“For now, there are no indications of a criminal origin,” he added. However, nothing had been ruled out, with an electrical fault and a cigarette that was not properly extinguished two of several possible causes being investigated, he said.

President Emmanuel Macron has set a target of five years for restoring Notre-Dame, which dates back to the 12th century and is one of Europe’s most iconic landmarks.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Geert de Clercq and John Stonestreet)

Eroding trust in vaccines leaves populations vulnerable, global study finds

FILE PHOTO: A vial of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and an information sheet is seen at Boston Children's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

By Kate Kelland

LONDON, June 19 (Reuters) – Trust in vaccines – one of the world’s most effective and widely-used medical products – is highest in poorer countries but weaker in wealthier ones where skepticism has allowed outbreaks of diseases such as measles to persist, a global study found on Wednesday.

France has the least confidence of any country in the world in the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, with a third believing that vaccines are unsafe, according to the study.

While most parents do choose to vaccinate their children, varying levels of confidence expose vulnerabilities in some countries to potential disease outbreaks, the study’s authors said, recommending that scientists need to ensure people have access to robust information from those they trust.

Public health experts and the World Health Organization (WHO) say vaccines save up to 3 million lives every year worldwide, and decades of research evidence consistently shows they are safe and effective.

But to achieve “herd immunity” to protect whole populations, immunization coverage rates must generally be above 90% or 95%, and vaccine mistrust can quickly reduce that protection.

“Over the last century, vaccines have made many devastating infectious diseases a distant memory,” said Charlie Weller, head of vaccines at the Wellcome Trust health charity, which co-led the Wellcome Global Monitor study.

“It is reassuring that almost all parents worldwide are vaccinating their children. However, there are pockets of lower confidence in vaccines across the world.”

The spread of measles, including in major outbreaks in the United States, the Philippines and Ukraine, is just one of the health risks linked to lower confidence in vaccines.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, false rumors about polio vaccines being part of a Western plot have in recent years hampered global efforts to wipe out the crippling disease.

The study, led by Wellcome and polling company Gallup, covered 140,000 people from more than 140 countries.

It found 6% of parents worldwide – equivalent to 188 million – say their children are unvaccinated. “The highest totals were in China at 9%, Austria at 8% and Japan at 7%.”

Seth Berkley, chief executive of the not-for-profit GAVI vaccine alliance, said the report showed a “worrying number of people” questioning vaccine safety. But by focusing on the “vocal minority” who refused to vaccinate, it was easy to forget that the vast majority trusted vaccines and the science that underpinned them.

The study also found that three-quarters of the world’s people trust doctors and nurses more than anyone else for health advice and that in most parts of the world, more education and greater trust in health systems, governments and scientists is a also sign of higher vaccine confidence.

In some high-income regions, however, confidence is weaker. Only 72% of people in North America and 73% in Northern Europe agree that vaccines are safe. In Eastern Europe, it is just 50%.

Heidi Larson, director of the vaccine confidence project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, worked with researchers on this study. She said it “exposes the paradox of Europe” which, despite being a region with among the highest income and education levels, also has the world’s highest levels of vaccine skepticism.

In poorer regions, trust levels tend to be much higher, with 95% in South Asia and 92% in Eastern Africa feeling confident that vaccines are safe and effective.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland; editing by John Stonestreet)

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)