Downbeat Sarkozy leads war ceremony

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In his last state ceremony before stepping down, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has led commemorations in Paris marking the end of the Second World War in Europe.

Mr Sarkozy was joined by President-elect Francois Hollande, and the two political rivals stood side by side at the Arc de Triomphe war memorial.

A solemn-looking Mr Sarkozy began the proceedings by laying a wreath at the statue of Charles de Gaulle, the former President and leader of the Free French Forces, in a nod to Mr Sarkozy’s Gaullist roots.

The President also shook hands at the Champs-Elysées ceremony with military dignitaries, including General de Gaulle’s 90-year-old son, Philippe.

A cortege followed Mr 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 since Adolf Hitler marched his Nazi troops through it when Germany took France over in 1940. It also was the site where Allied troops celebrated victory over Germany 67 years ago.

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

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

Afterwards Mr Hollande said that 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.”

He narrowly beat Mr Sarkozy on Sunday to be the next President of France by just over a million votes. Mr Sarkozy and Mr Hollande will meet again next Tuesday at the Elysée Palace for the official transfer of power.