France moves Japan Bastille Day party to Fukushima

KORIYAMA, Japan, July 14, 2011 (AFP) - France on Thursday moved its annual Bastille Day celebrations in Japan from Tokyo to Fukushima prefecture, which was hit hard by the March 11 quake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

It was the first time France has moved an overseas celebration of its national day to a venue outside the host country's capital.

AFP - French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand (L) receives a Fukushima made peach from a members of farmers' association of Fukushima in Koriyama city in Fukushima prefecture on July 14, 2011. Mitterannd is now on a three-day visit.

Six hundred survivors of the quake catastrophe joined the celebration, which was hosted by French Culture and Communication Minister Frederic Mitterrand in a sign of solidarity with the quake-hit nation.

Mitterand said he had witnessed how "the French people have followed with a heavy heart the misfortune that has touched the kind people of Japan."

Praising the will, dignity and courage of the Japanese, the minister said his visit was "proof of the fraternity between the French people and the Japanese people. Let's move forward together."

The celebration was held at Koriyama, 220 kilometres (135 miles) north of Tokyo, in the same prefecture as the tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which emergency crews are still working to bring to cold shutdown.

More than 1,000 people attended the reception, organized with the help of a dozen French and Japanese chefs including several with Michelin star ratings.

The move was at the initiative of French ambassador Philippe Faure.

"This is an opportunity to bring some comfort to those who most need it now, and it shows the solidarity of France during a difficult time with our Japanese friends," Faure told the guests.

Mitterrand arrived in Tokyo on Thursday to "show his confidence in the future of Japan and his desire to be with the Japanese in the reconstruction of Tohoku," said a ministry statement, referring to the devastated region.

He will on Friday travel to Sendai, a city badly hit by the giant tsunami triggered by the magnitude-9.0 seabed quake, the most powerful ever recorded in Japan. The disaster left nearly 21,000 dead or missing.

Japan's Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Yoshiaki Takaki earlier expressed to Mitterrand Japan's "profound gratitude for the support and solidarity of France and the French people after the earthquake."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was the first foreign leader to visit after the disaster and travelled to Tokyo on March 31 to express to Prime Minister Naoto Kan the support of Paris and the G20 members.

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