Trump’s Visit to France Marked by Controversy

U.S. President Donald Trump wrapped up his visit to France on Sunday after attending events commemorating the end of World War I a hundred years ago. In addition to participating in the Armistice Day ceremony in Paris with about 70 other world leaders, Trump visited an American military cemetery outside Paris before flying back to the United States. As VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports, Trump’s visit was marked by some controversy.

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White House: Cemetery Motorcade Would Have Disrupted Roads

Stung by criticism for not attending an event honoring U.S. military dead, the White House says President Donald Trump didn’t want to disrupt Paris roadways for a last-minute motorcade to a cemetery in northern France.

Trump had been scheduled to lay a wreath and observe a moment of silence Saturday at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial, located adjacent to Belleau Wood and about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northeast of Paris. The White House cited weather conditions that grounded the president’s helicopter for the cancellation.

In the wake of criticism that Trump didn’t travel by car to the event, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement Sunday that noted the weather and “near-zero visibility” as well as concerns that a motorcade on short notice would have required closing substantial portions of area roadways.

“President Trump did not want to cause that kind of unexpected disruption to the city and its people,” Sanders said. She also said the trip to Aisne-Marne was 2 hours each way by car.

Instead, Trump spent much of Saturday at the U.S. ambassador’s residence following a meeting and lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron. Trump was in Paris for events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

Attending the cemetery event in Trump’s place were the White House chief of staff, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly; the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joe Dunford; and several members of the White House staff. The Battle of Belleau Wood was a critical conflict in the war and a pivotal encounter in Marine Corps history.

The determination to ground Marine One, the president’s helicopter, due to bad weather is made by the Marine Corps and the White House Military Office, which then presents the recommendation to the White House in collaboration with the Secret Service, according to a Secret Service official.

Paris was covered in clouds with drizzling rain through most of Saturday.

On Sunday, Trump attended a scheduled event honoring American war dead at a U.S. cemetery just outside of Paris.

 

 

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Topless Female Protesters Approach Trump Motorcade in Paris

French police arrested two topless female protesters Sunday on the Champs-Elysees where France was holding a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

One of the women was apprehended within just a few meters of the motorcade of U.S. President Donald Trump as it approached the site. She had the words “Fake Peacemaker” written across her chest.

Femen, the radical feminist activist group, based in Paris, appeared to take responsibility for the demonstration.

Femen leader Inna Shevchenko wrote on Twitter: “FEMEN activists ‘welcomed’ the cortege of @realDonaldTrump twice on his way to Arc de Triumph.”

The incident is likely to raise questions about security lapses at the event.

Most of the world leaders attending the Armistice Day ceremony in Paris were transported to the site in buses.

Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin chose not to ride on the buses. The White House says Trump’s arrival was dictated by “security protocols.”

 

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Centenary of End of WWI Marked with Paris Ceremony

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — precisely 100 years after fighting halted in the first world war — leaders from 70 nations gathered at the Arc de Triomphe to remember the millions who died in the conflict.

French President Emmanuel Macron and leaders from the majority of countries that sent troops or workers to the Western Front, met at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the arch to light the eternal flame that is rekindled every night at the memorial engraved with the words: “Here rests a French soldier who died for the nation.”

In his address Macron spoke about the sacrifices of lives made a century ago in the four years of carnage in Europe.  He said “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism.”

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin were the last to arrive.

The ceremony, under rainy skies, also features cellist Yo-Yo Ma, singer Angelique Kidjo of the African nation of Benin and a bugler to break the minute of silence for remembrance.

No soldier from the war is known to still be alive but their voices are present through high school students here reading their letters written at the front on this day a century ago.

U.S. Army Capt. Charles Normington wrote that “each soldier had his arms full of French girls, some crying, others laughing; each girl had to kiss every soldier before she would let him pass. There is nowhere on earth I would rather be.”

“Finally, the whir of the shells and the whistling of the bullets are over,” wrote French infantryman Alfred Roumiguieres.

“Today has been perfectly wonderful,” Charles Neville, a British officer, wrote to his parents. “We got news of the armistice at 9:30 this morning.”

The war’s four years of carnage was intended – as the British and Americans idealistically insisted — to be the “war to end all wars.” But little more than 20 years later global conflict would again erupt with casualties on an unprecedented scale.

Trump cancels cemetery visit

Trump canceled a visit to an American cemetery outside Paris Saturday.

A White House statement said the president’s visit was canceled because of scheduling and logistical difficulties caused by the weather.

An American delegation led by Chief of Staff General John Kelly and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford did visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial under gray skies and drizzle, paying respect to the nearly 2,300 war dead buried there.

The area was the site of the Battle of Belleau Wood in June of 1918. In addition to the 2,288 graves of American soldiers, the cemetery contains a memorial to 1,060 service members who went missing in action.

Trump was criticized on social media for remaining in Paris during the afternoon with no other scheduled events, as images were broadcast of French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel holding hands at the site in the Compiegne Forest, north of the capital, where allies and defeated Germans signed the agreement that ended the war.

Some former U.S. officials suggested Trump could have visited the cemetery if he really desired.

“There is always a rain option. Always,” wrote on Twitter Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser under President Barack Obama, who explained he helped plan such foreign visits during the two terms of Trump’s predecessor.

Tense start

Earlier Saturday, Trump and Macron discussed their differences about European security. The meeting came soon after Donald Trump arrived in Paris and criticized his host via Twitter, calling Macron’s support for a European military force “very insulting.”

In the touchdown tweet, Trump suggested Europe first pay “its fair share” of NATO before contemplating a Europe-wide force.

As they began their meeting Saturday morning at the Elysee Palace, the U.S. president again called for better burden sharing for the cost of defending Europe.

“We want a strong Europe,” said Trump.

Macron replied: “I do believe we need more European capacities, more European defense.”

Trump and Macron avoided any criticism of each other in front of the media.

Macron, during a visit to the World War One Western Front at Verdun, told Europe 1 radio that in face of a revived threat from Moscow that Europe needed to “defend itself better alone” and Europeans cannot protect themselves without a “true European army.”

Macron, in the interview, also blasted Trump’s recent announcement that Washington will withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) limiting nuclear weapons that U.S. President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to.

The “main victim” of the withdrawal, Macron argued, is “Europe and its security.”

French officials, however, say — without elaborating — there was a misunderstanding by Trump about Macron’s comments, noting the U.S. president told his French counterpart in their Saturday meeting: “I think we are much closer than it seems.”

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Report: Russian Charged by US Seen at Libya Military Meeting

A Russian newspaper says video released by the self-styled Libyan National Army shows a businessman allegedly linked to a private contractor that sent mercenaries to Syria at a meeting with the head of the Libyan army and top Russian military officials.

 

Novaya Gazeta reported Friday that a man seen wearing civilian dress at the meeting was Yevgeny Prigozhin. The Moscow meeting included Libyan National Army head Khalifa Hifter, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of staff of Russia’s armed forces.

 

Prigozhin is allegedly tied to a military contractor believed to have sent thousands of mercenaries to Syria, augmenting regular Russian troops deployed there. He also has been indicted by the United States over the alleged Russian “troll farm” accused of using social media to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

 

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Police, Catalan Separatists Clash in Barcelona

Police in Barcelona have briefly clashed with Catalan separatists who are protesting a rally by Spain’s national police forces in the Mediterranean city.

Catalan regional police used batons to drive back a group of separatists in the city center Saturday, stopping them from advancing toward a march by an association of Spain’s national police forces demanding higher pay.

In September, a similar protest by separatists of another march by the same national police association ended in clashes with regional security forces. The violent run-ins left 14 people injured and six arrests.

Spain has been mired in a political crisis since last year, when Catalonia’s separatist lawmakers failed in a breakaway bid.

Polls and recent elections show that the wealthy northeastern region’s 7.5 million residents are roughly equally divided by the secession question.

 

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Turkey: Khashoggi Tapes Shared With Key Foreign Nations

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday he has shared recordings of the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi with Britain, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

There was no immediate confirmation from the five countries that they had received the recordings.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier this week his government has more information about the killing and that it likely will make the evidence public after investigations of his death have been completed.

Speaking during a trip to Japan, Cavusoglu told reporters that Turkey said Saudi Arabia and other countries interested in the information have been given the opportunity to see it.

Khashoggi was killed in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2.  

Initially, Saudi Arabia said Khashoggi walked out of the consulate and that his whereabouts were unknown, then that he died in a fist fight and still later that he had died in a chokehold.  The kingdom’s public prosecutor has since called the killing premeditated, but has not said who planned or approved it.

Cavusoglu said Tuesday that after multiple conversations with Saudi King Salman, President Erdogan was convinced the king was not involved.

Cavusoglu said it is clear, though, that a 15-man team alleged to have traveled to Turkey to act as a hit squad would not have taken such action on their own, and that investigators need to find who would have given that order.

Turkey said last week that Khashoggi, a U.S.-based journalist who had written columns for The Washington Post that were critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was strangled as soon as he entered the consulate, his body dismembered and then destroyed, possibly dissolved in acid.

No trace of Khashoggi’s remains has turned up, even as the 59-year-old journalist’s sons appealed on the U.S. television news network CNN on Sunday for the Saudis to return his body so he can be buried in the major Islamic pilgrimage city of Medina with the rest of his family.

A Turkish official, speaking anonymously, confirmed a Monday report in Sabah, a newspaper close to Turkey’s government, that chemicals expert Ahmad Abdulaziz al-Janobi and toxicology expert Khaled Yahya al-Zahrani were part of a team sent from Saudi Arabia, supposedly to investigate Khashoggi’s October 2 killing.

The Sabah report said the two experts visited the consulate every day from their arrival on October 11 until October 17, with Saudi authorities allowing Turkish investigators to search the consulate on October 15.

 

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Trump Touches Down in Paris, Hits Back at His Host

The moment Air Force One touched down Friday at Orly airport, U.S. President Donald Trump blasted a caustic message for his host, terming French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for a European military “very insulting.”

In the touchdown tweet, Trump suggested Europe first pay “its fair share” of NATO before contemplating a Europe-wide force.

As he stepped off his plane, accompanied by the first lady, Melania Trump, a group of White House reporters shouted questions at him about the Twitter message. Trump stared at the journalists but did not respond before entering the presidential limousine.

The fresh dispute between the two leaders, who have had a hot and cold relationship, threatens to cast a pall on Sunday’s ceremony here marking the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, in which 40 million people died.

The United States and France were allies in both world wars and partners in the post-World War II security structure for Western Europe: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which is composed of separate forces of varying strengths and capabilities of the member nations.

Trump, however, since taking office nearly two years ago, has repeatedly questioned the mutual defense pact and harshly criticized European countries for failing to meet pledges of contributions of 2 percent of their gross domestic product to the alliance. He has also emphasized that the United States needs to take care of itself first before the needs of other nations, rejecting the concept of globalism.

Macron, during a visit to the World War I Western Front at Verdun, told Europe 1 radio that in face of a revived threat from Moscow, Europe needed to “defend itself better alone.” Europeans, he said, cannot protect themselves without a “true European army.”

Macron, in the interview, also blasted Trump’s recent announcement that Washington would withdraw from the 1987 INF Treaty limiting nuclear weapons that U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to.

The “main victim” of the withdrawal, Macron argued, is “Europe and its security.”

European force

The French president added that Europe also has to protect itself “with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America.”

Nine defense ministers from European countries are discussing how such a new international force would operate.

European leaders have been rattled since a NATO summit earlier in the year, when they perceived Trump’s demands for billions of additional dollars in military spending from them as a threat that the United States would pull out of the nearly 70-year-old alliance.

But the idea of a European army has limited support in Berlin and London. Political and military analysts question whether European countries have the will, money or materiel to replace the raw power of the United States.

The issue comes into sharp focus as France commemorates the fallen of a century ago in the war that ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

As a prelude to Sunday’s ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe, which will be attended by dozens of world leaders, Trump and Macron are to meet on Saturday at Elysee Palace to discuss European and Mideast security.

Trump on Saturday also will make pilgrimages to two American cemeteries.

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Turkey’s Military Says 25 Soldiers Wounded in Accident

Turkey’s military says 25 Turkish soldiers were wounded in an accident that occurred while firing heavy ammunition.

In a statement Friday, the Defense Ministry said another seven soldiers were unaccounted for following the accident, which occurred at the Sungu Tepe military base in the southeastern province of Hakkari. The province borders both Iraq and Iran.

The Hakkari governor’s office said the explosion was caused by the firing of “faulty” ordnance at the base.

It is not clear whether the accident happened during a combat mission or an exercise.

The Defense Ministry said the wounded soldiers were transferred to a hospital, but did not give details on the severity of the injuries. The ministry said that an investigation has been launched.

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been the site of clashes between the Turkish army and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey also regularly carries out airstrikes on PKK bases in northern Iraq.

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