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French preoccupied with anniversary of devastating terrorist attacks as Trump slams their president on Twitter

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe laid a wreath Nov. 13 at a memorial for one of 130 victims killed in coordinated Islamic State attacks three years prior. (Video: Reuters)

PARIS — When President Trump unleashed a slew of Twitter attacks on French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday, Macron — like much of France — was preoccupied with something else.

Tuesday happens to be the third anniversary of terrorist attacks in Paris, when a network of Islamic State-affiliated gunmen killed 130 people in a coordinated assault on the Bataclan concert hall, a number of cafe terraces and a sports arena. The assault was the bloodiest on French soil since World War II, and it shook the nation to its core.

To that end, Tuesday was supposed to be a solemn day in France, with a commemoration ceremony planned in Paris and somber statements of remembrance issued by public officials. Hundreds gathered outside the concert hall in a lively neighborhood on the eastern side of Paris, and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, visited the cafes that were targeted in the area.

“Three years have passed but nothing is forgotten,” Macron said in a statement, posted on Twitter. “November 13 has entered into the memory of our entire nation, where each of the victims is held. We will never forget them: they remind us of the strength of what holds us together and which cannot be destroyed.”

But by the time Macron had made his statement, Trump’s attacks on a world leader he has repeatedly called a friend and a country that ranks among the oldest and most historic U.S. allies had already begun.

In a morning tweetstorm, Trump takes repeated aim at France’s Macron

Trump’s first tweet against Macron ridiculed France’s performance in World Wars I and II and accused the French president, yet again, of calling for a European army to defend against the United States — a misleading claim that does not accurately reflect Macron’s words.

Trump made a similar comment Friday night, as Air Force One arrived in Paris for the centennial commemoration of the 1918 Armistice, the end of World War I.

In an interview with French radio station Europe 1 earlier last week, Macron said Europe should take charge of its own defenses without overly relying on the United States, remarks that in fact echoed what Trump has long said about the need for Europe to shoulder a greater share of its defense burden.

“I believe in the project of a sovereign Europe,” Macron said in that interview, which was mistranslated in a number of English-language reports. “We won’t protect Europe if we don’t decide to have a true European army. In front of Russia, which is at our borders and which can be threatening, I would like to start a security dialogue with Russia, which is a country I respect and which is European.”

Following Trump’s attack Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel came to Macron’s defense, echoing his initial call.

“We want to work on the vision of eventually creating a real European army,” she said in a speech to the European Parliament. Her remarks implied that such a project would not be pursued imminently. But a European army, Merkel said, would “show the world that there will never again be war between the European countries.”

In a stab at Trump, Merkel said that the times when Europe could rely on others were “simply over.”

“Old allies cast doubts over tried-and-tested ties,” she said, probably referring to the United States.

Trump’s attacks on France continued regardless. He then began discussing trade imbalances, targeting French wine in particular.

Analysis: The Broken Bromance? The Trump-Macron relationship is on the rocks.

In an unusual breach of Franco-American relations, however, Trump also attacked Macron personally, highlighting his low approval ratings and France’s relatively high unemployment rate.

“The problem is that Emmanuel suffers from a very low Approval Rating in France, 26%, and an unemployment rate of almost 10%,” Trump wrote. In fact, France’s unemployment rate is closer to 9 percent.

Trump is correct, however, in terms of Macron’s low approval ratings, which come after a scandal involving a rogue security official, a slew of unpopular labor law changes, and a demeanor many perceive as monarchical and aloof.

“He was just trying to get onto another subject. By the way, there is no country more Nationalist than France, very proud people-and rightfully so!” Trump tweeted.

Macron had used Nov. 11 Armistice Day commemoration to condemn nationalism and the “selfishness of nations only looking after their own interests.”

Patriotism, Macron said Sunday, “is exactly the opposite of nationalism.”

As France continued to mourn on the anniversary of the Nov. 13 attacks, Trump ended his Twitter tirade with a familiar statement: “......MAKE FRANCE GREAT AGAIN!”

The Elysee Palace, the seat of the French presidency, told The Washington Post it had no comment.

Rick Noack in Berlin contributed to this report.

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