World Bulletin/News Desk
The leaders of France and Germany joined in a symbolic celebration of unity on Sunday, hailing a relationship that has brought peace to Europe for 50 years but must now prove it can survive its most serious crisis to date.
Taking a pause from more than two years of constant crisis management that has strained Franco-German ties, President Francois Hollande welcomed his German counterpart, Chancellor Angela Merkel, to the city of Reims in eastern France.
The event replicated an encounter in 1962 between former French president Charles de Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, when the two leaders enshrined Franco-German ties in a city that once bore the brunt of shelling in World War One.
But while De Gaulle and Adenauer's encounter sealed a reconciliation after two wars, Sunday's meeting was held against a backdrop of acrimony over how to handle Europe's debt crisis.
"The European Union is going through a crisis - it won't be the first, it won't be the last," Hollande said in a speech by the giant double-doors of Reims' Notre Dame Cathedral, where French kings were once crowned. "But ... it forces us to move toward a new phase of development."
"Mrs Chancellor, I propose to you that we, together, walk through a new door to years that will make the friendship between our two countries even deeper," he added.
The meeting was a faithful reenactment of the 1962 encounter - down to the lunch menu. Even the rainy weather was the same.
Like their predecessors, Merkel and Hollande stood side-by-side to review a parade of French and German troops before listening to a children's choir in the cathedral's knave, where one of the most famous photographs of De Gaulle and Adenauer was taken.
Lunch, hosted by Michelin-starred French chef Philippe Mille, was a historical throwback: cold salmon, filet of beef with peas, braised carrots and potatoes, with raspberry macarons for desert. The meal was accompanied by three bottles of vintage Champagne from the region.
Undercurrent of tension
For people who witnessed the first Reims meeting, the progress since that day from friendship to a political and economic union is a subject of wonderment.
"This was a historical turning point," said Pierre Maillard, a former diplomatic advisor to the French presidency, in a documentary produced by the OFAJ Franco-German Office.
"The idea of an association of interests between our two countries was nothing short of revolutionary," he said, noting that public opinion in France at the time was stacked against the idea of a partnership with Germany.
But underneath the sense of elation about the past, anxiety over the present ran high as the euro zone - the crowning legacy of Franco-German entente - struggles to restore confidence in the creditworthiness of its peripheral members.
Greece remains a particular source of strain, with fears of a forced exit from the euro surging after Greece's new leaders admitted it was off-track in meeting terms of a bailout plan.
The crisis has exposed differences between France and Germany on how to proceed with the European project. While Merkel wants Europe to form a fiscal union that would give Brussels more oversight over national budgets, France resists any intrusion into budgetary issues.
Hollande, meanwhile, faces Germany's refusal on the idea of mutualising European debt via jointly-issued euro bonds, with German public opinion staunchly opposed to any efforts to make them underwrite European partners' debts.
Last week, as euro zone leaders sat down for talks in Brussels, tensions spilled over as President Francois Hollande declared that he was on the side of Italy and Spain in negotiations - breaking the Franco-German common front.
In subtle ways, such differences were acknowledged in speeches by the two leaders. Hollande referred to countries' need to "retain sovereignty" within the European Union, while Merkel emphasised efforts towards deepening political integration.
"We are currently going through a major challenge, which Europe must overcome," said Merkel. "The European Union that was created 20 years ago does not appear to be strong enough ... We must do what was not done 20 years ago to complete the political union."
As the celebration came to a close, a French news report provided a reminder that French and German achievements toward peace were not to be taken for granted: a few kilometres north of Reims, vandals had desecrated the graves of about 40 German World War One soldiers.
Abdullah Zekri, the the head of the French National Observatory against Islamophobia has said that anti-Muslim acts rose by 500 percent.
German Finance Minister said that while a gas deal with Russia will be good for Greece, it will not be sufficient to overcome their debt problems.
The Turkish Consulate General building in the Greek city of Thessaloniki has been damaged during a demonstration against high-security prisons Friday night.
Mauritanian news website Alakhbar posted an audio statement on Friday claiming the attack on peacekeepers was done on behalf of the armed group al-Mourabitoun.
Aden Haji Hussein was killed after he had taken his wife to hospital. The gunmen had blocked his path as he was returning to his car.
Iraqi armed forces have retaken the oil refinery that was seized on Friday by ISIL forces.
In December, Israel began withholding around $130 million per month of taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinians after the Palestinian Authority announced it was joining the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The aim of the setting up of the graves was to draw attention to the Palestinian detainees languishing in Israeli jails.
Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger said judges must have “an understanding of different cultural and social habits,” as part of their duty to show fairness and impartiality in trials.
Libyan news website Ajwa Belad said the clashes in Fashloum started after an armed group attacked a checkpoint of an anti-drugs police force.
Barack Obama said the crisis in Libya, where ISIL has built a presence, could not be ended with "a few drone strikes or a few military operations".
Gen. Dempsey says fall of Ramadi to ISIL in Anbar province is not central to Iraq's future, with US senators slamming his comments saying that it was an insult.
A county public works equipment operator struck the natural gas line which resulted in the explosion.
Eight police officers were killed and five others were wounded Friday in a ISIL suicide car bomb attack.
Three suspected assailants were killed when gunfights broke out and vehicles set alight on US border.
A bomb laden with explosives has exploded in front of the US Consulate in Erbil, with reports saying three killed, and five wounded.