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Gauck begins reconciliation visit to France

German President Joachim Gauck has arrived in Paris at the start of a three-day state visit. He will travel with President Francois Hollande on Wednesday to the site of a World War Two massacre by German SS troops.

The first formal state visit to France by a German head of state in 17 years began Tuesday. President Joachim Gauck will attend events to mark the 50th anniversary of the post-war Elysee reconciliation treaty between both nations.

Gauck, formerly an eastern German activist for human rights before he became president, had meetings scheduled in Paris with Hollande and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, before dinner Tuesday evening at the Elysee Palace.

Focus on Syria

At an opening press conference with Gauck, Hollande said the world must respond punitively to last month's alleged chemical weapons attack in the Syrian capital Damascus.

"When a chemical massacre happens, when the world is informed about it, when the proof is supplied and those responsible are known, then there must be a response," Hollande said.

The French president added that he would not intervene alone in Syria if the US Congress voted against military action.

"If the decision of [Congress] was not positive, then we would not act alone, but we would not shirk our responsibility, by supporting the opposition in Syria in such a way that would provide a response," he said.

Gauck conveyed a message from German Chancellor Angela Merkel that she assumed that an appropriate response would be agreed internationally.

Referring to the economic troubles across the 17-nation eurozone, Gauck pleaded for reform: "I belong to those people, who are encouraged that consolidatiion [of public debt] and reform measures are being concretely pursued."

France and Germany have had differing views on reform, with France hampered by high unemployment while under EU pressure to reduce its public debt. Germany has benefitted from robust exports.

Gauck to visit WWII site

On Wednesday, Gauck and Hollande are scheduled to visit the central French village of Oradour-sur-Glane, where on June 10, 1944, Hitler Germany's Waffen-SS troops killed 642 people, just days after the Allied landing in Normandy.

Watch video 06:19

The Horrors of Oradour

Some 205 children were among victims locked in a church in Oradour before the SS released toxic gas and set the building and other village premises ablaze. Only six residents survived the inferno.

The ruins of Oradour were preserved under the French general and post-war president Charles de Gaulle. For decades, surviving residents rejected official contacts with Germany.

In pre-visit remarks, Gauck said he represented a "different Germany" and would bow his head to the victims when he, accompanied by his partner Daniele Schadt, visited the site to lay a wreath on Wednesday.

In 2010, Germany reopened a war crimes case against a number of ageing members of the former SS regiment after a historian discovered documents.

Wednesday's commemoration at Oradour will be reminiscent of 1984 when the then French president Francois Mitterand and former German chancellor Helmut Kohl joined hands in memory of the fallen of Verdun, a World War One battlefield.

On Thursday, Gauck will travel on to Marseille, one of this year's European Capitals of Culture.

ipj/dr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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