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Fury as UK PM snubs Moscow VE Day

London Evening Standard | May 9, 2005
By Jason Beattie

Mr Blair is accused of adding insult to injury by declining to join scores of world leaders in Moscow for the 60th anniversary memorial service marking the end of the Second World War in Europe.

The Prime Minister, who has reportedly blamed pressures of the reshuff le for his absence, chose to send John Prescott to represent Britain at the event hosted by President Vladimir Putin.

In addition to President Putin, President George Bush, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schrˆder attended. They laid wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before watching a march through Red Square.

VE Day holds a special significance for the Russians. The country lost more than 27 million people during the conflict.

One former Red Army officer said: "It is a sad day that Britain's Prime Minister is not standing with us to honour these heroes of all nations. What would your Winston Churchill have thought?"

However, the Russian news agency Ria Novosti said President Putin had reacted with

understanding". The snub by the Prime Minister comes after questions were asked about the nature of the VE Day celebrations in London. The Queen, in agreement with the Ministry of Defence, was the only head of state from the war-time countries not to take part.

In contrast, President Bush laid a wreath at an American cemetery in Holland, and President Chirac took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris. One war veteran accused the Government of "dumbing down" the British ceremonies. Peter Watson, a former major in the Black Watch, said ministers were "unable to appreciate" the significance of VE Day.

"It's a downright insult that the Queen was not given the opportunity to be here. It's ignoring the people who died," he said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said the decision for Prince Charles to lay the wreath had been taken "after discussions with the Palace".

The Government appears to have misjudged the importance attached to VE Day. The MoD originally planned a national day of remembrance led by the Queen on 10 July - a date chosen as midway between VE Day and VJ Day.

An MoD spokesman said: "The main event was always going to be 10 July and that is where the main effort is."

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