Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande mark VE Day in Paris

 

In his last state ceremony as France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy led commemorations today in Paris marking the end of World War II in Europe, standing side-by-side with the man who ousted him from power.

A solemn-faced Sarkozy was joined by President-elect François Hollande, and the two political rivals stood together at the Arc de Triomphe war memorial on the Champs-Elysees Avenue.

To the stirring anthem "The Marseillaise," Sarkozy laid a wreath at the statue of Charles de Gaulle, the former president and leader of the Free French Forces. The president also shook hands with military dignitaries, including Gen. de Gaulle's 90-year-old son, Philippe.

A cortege followed Sarkozy up the grand central artery to the Place de l'Etoile, where he and outgoing Prime Minister Francois Fillon inspected the troops.

The Arc de Triomphe has a special significance for World War II since Adolf Hitler marched his Nazi troops through the iconic monument when Germany took over France in 1940. It also was the site where Allied troops — including many US soldiers — celebrated victory over Germany 67 years ago.

Sarkozy — who looked particularly downbeat throughout the ceremony — was joined by Hollande, the winner of Sunday's presidential runoff, to lay another wreath at a World War I memorial.

Putting aside their differences, the two then stood in silence for several minutes at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, whose symbolic flame was made to burn brighter during the ceremony.

The rare scene of the two French leaders together will no doubt feature prominently in French newspapers. The two men met some World War II veterans before shaking hands with each other in front of the cameras.

Speaking after the ceremony, Hollande said after a "particularly" tough campaign, "it was useful and helpful for the country to know it can still come together ... around the president still in power, and the newly elected one, for the same one cause: the country."

The Socialist narrowly beat Sarkozy on Sunday to be the next president of France by just over 1 million votes. Sarkozy and Hollande will meet again May 15 at the presidential Elysee Palace for the official transfer of power.

Meanwhile, new allegations of illegal financing of Sarkozy's 2007 campaign emerged out of Belarus.

President Alexander Lukashenko told the Belarusian parliament that the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi told him when he visited Belarus in 2008 that he had funded Sarkozy's campaign.

Sarkozy has strongly denied the claims, which first emerged last year.

AP

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