40 German WWI graves in France vandalized

July 8, 2012 at 10:15 AM

RIEMS, France, July 8 (UPI) -- A Sunday meeting between the leaders of France and Germany has been marred by the desecration of 40 German soldiers' graves in Riems, France, officials said.

The ceremonial meeting between French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel was aimed at easing tension between the two countries as they tackle the debt crisis, Radio France Internationale reported.

Hollande, a center-left advocate of growth, and Merkel, a center-right defender of austerity, have locked horns on resolving the eurozone debt crisis, with the French president advocating a boost in spending and the chancellor touting belt-tightening, RFI reported.

Vandalism at the Saint-Etienne-a-Arnes cemetery was discovered Saturday just prior to the ceremony. About 40 wooden markers at German World War I soldier's graves were pulled up and used for a camp fire where several beer bottles were found, RFI reported.

"An inquiry is under way and all means are being employed to find those responsible for this terrible desecration," French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said in a statement.

"This is a lowly act, it's unwarranted and stupid violence," Junior European Affairs Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Sunday.

"On this highly symbolic day, one cannot but be deeply shocked by such an act."

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