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German Leader To Skip WWI Ceremony

October 22, 1998

BONN, Germany (AP) _ Germany’s new leader is too busy setting up his government to attend World War I Armistice Day events in France, his spokesman said Thursday, dismissing as ``rubbish″ reports that he isn’t going because he wants to avoid the past.

Chancellor-elect Gerhard Schroeder informed French President Jacques Chirac ``in all friendliness″ that he could not attend the Nov. 11 ceremony because his calendar was already full, said spokesman Michael Juerdens.

``He’s in the middle of the very difficult process of assuming office,″ Juerdens said. ``Chirac understands that taking over a government isn’t something one can do by-the-by.″

But Schroeder’s absence is likely to be perceived as a serious snub in France _ even though Paris was the first world capital he visited after his Sept. 27 election.

While France and Germany have worked together to build a united Europe, fears of German economic domination still haunt France.

Schroeder and his new Cabinet are to be sworn in Oct. 27, and he intends to deliver his inauguration speech the week of Nov. 9.

Juerdens dismissed as ``rubbish″ and ``simply nonsense″ reports from Paris that quoted a French official as saying Schroeder turned down the invitation because he wanted ``a new face″ for Germany that wasn’t tied to the past.

About 3.2 million French and German soldiers were among the 10 million killed during World War I, which ended with a truce on Nov. 11, 1918.

Chirac initially planned a ceremony in the Ardennes on Nov. 8 to mark the 80th anniversary of the final battle between German and French soldiers. That was dropped in favor of a commemoration in Paris on Armistice Day itself.

Chirac’s Nov. 11 ceremony will still go on, with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth coming.

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