by Francis CURTA and Clare BYRNE
Paris (AFP) – US President Donald Trump came under fire on Saturday after cancelling a visit to an American World War I military cemetery in France because of rainy weather.
Trump, who is in France for commemorations marking the centenary of the end of the war, and his wife Melania were to have flown by helicopter to the Belleau Wood battlefield and cemetery where US Marines faced off against German forces in 1918.
“The President and First Lady’s trip to Ainse-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial has been canceled due to scheduling and logistical difficulties caused by the weather,” a White House statement said.
Instead, Trump sent his Chief of Staff General John Kelly and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford in his place to the site, which lies 80 kilometres (50 miles) northeast of Paris.
Some saw Trump’s no-show in Belleau Wood as a sign of disrespect to US soldiers who fought and died in the trenches.
More than 7,000 were killed or wounded in the June 1918 battle at Bellau Wood and the cemetery contains the graves of 2,289 war dead.
The visit was one of two Trump had planned to war cemeteries on a weekend coinciding with Veterans Day in the United States.
– ‘Fallen American heroes’ –
The cancellation drew derision from some critics, with several suggesting he was afraid of messing up his hair and others noting that the rain had not stopped French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel or Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from visiting memorials.
“They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate @realDonaldTrump couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to The Fallen,” tweeted Nicholas Soames, a British Conservative member of parliament and grandson of Winston Churchill.
“Donald Trump complained about having to stand in the rain, to speak about the massacre in Pittsburgh, because it messed his hair up (more),” the VoteVets veterans lobby group tweeted.
“Today, he will skip honoring fallen American heroes of WWI, and stay in his hotel room, because of some rain.”
Trump was compared unfavourably by some to his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.
“Unlike Trump, a little rain never stopped President Obama from honoring our fallen war heroes on Veterans Day,” former Pentagon official Adam Blickstein tweeted along with a picture of Obama carrying a wreath at a rain-soaked remembrance ceremony.
But while some questioned why Trump had not made the hour-long journey by road, White House insiders noted that organising a presidential motorcade, typically involving dozens of vehicles, would be a tall order at the last minute.
On Sunday, Trump is scheduled to visit a cemetery in the Paris suburb of Suresnes.
He will also join around 70 other world leaders for a solemn ceremony at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
On Saturday, Macron and Merkel travelled to Compiegne in northeast France to unveil a plaque in the forest clearing where the World War 1 armistice was signed.
Trudeau visited Canada’s Vimy Memorial near the northern city of Lille.
Featured Photo: AFP / SAUL LOEB. US President Donald Trump is in France to attend WWI centenary ceremonies.