FRANCE

Hollande hails female French resistance fighters at Panthéon ceremony

The coffins were put on show in front of the Sorbonne university earlier in the week before being taken to the Panthéon
The coffins were put on show in front of the Sorbonne university earlier in the week before being taken to the Panthéon Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

French President François Hollande is to give "one of the most important speeches of his presidency" on Wednesday when the coffins of four members of the World War II French resistance are placed in the Panthéon in Paris. Two of the four are women, bringing the total number of women in the resting place of the nation's heroes to four out of 75.

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Hollande will pay tribute to Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, Pierre Brossolette, Germaine Tillion and Jean Zay at a solemn ceremony at the historic edifice in Paris's Latin Quarter.

The president was working day and night on the speech, "which will certainly be one of the most important of his presidency", a source close to Hollande told the AFP news agency on Monday.

But he will refrain from talking about current events, including January's Charlie Hebdo attacks, according to reports.

Only two women are currently in the Panthéon, over whose door is written "The nation thanks its great men": physicist Marie Curie and Sophie Berthelot, who is only there because she is the wife of chemist Marcellin Berthelot.

Ethnologist Germaine Tillion represents equality between genders, cultures and peoples for Hollande, he said in February, while Geneviève de Gaulle, the niece of ex-president Charles de Gaulle who set up an international NGO after the war, represents fraternity with "the poor, the forgotten, the excluded".

Brossolette, a journalist who was tortured by the Gestapo, represents freedom for the president and Zay, who was education minister before the war, secularism.

The coffins of Tillion and de Gaulle-Anthonioz contain only earth because their families did not wish their remains to be moved from their present graves.

Another former education minister, Luc Chatel, who is now an adviser to right-wing ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, declared the ceremony a "good thing", hoping it would teach young people about the sacrifices made by the French resistance to German occupation.

But former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, also a member of Sarkozy's UMP, struck a more sceptical note.

"What people want is a reversal of the rise in unemployment rather than a history lesson," he told Europe 1 radio.

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