Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel MacronReuters

The French government said there will be no official French homage to Nazi collaborator Philippe Petain at World War I ceremonies this week, after President Emmanuel Macron drew fire for calling
the Vichy leader a "great soldier."

"The marshals whose honor has not been tarnished, and only those, will be honored by the republic," spokesman Benjamin Griveaux posted on Facebook late Wednesday.

"If there was a confusion, it's because we weren't sufficiently clear on this point," he said.

A chorus of protests had erupted after Macron indicated Petain would be among the eight marshals honored Saturday for their role in leading the French fight, saying he had earned the country's gratitude.

"It's right that we honor the marshals who led France to victory," Macron said in the town of Charleville-Mezieres, part of a tour of northern France marking the centenary of the end of the 1914-18 war.

"He was a great soldier, it's a fact, he added, though he stressed that Petain had made "disastrous choices" during World War II.

His comments set off a storm of criticism from rival politicians as well as Jewish leaders, who accused the president of discounting Petain's treasonous collaboration with the Nazi occupiers in the 1940s.

"The only thing we will remember about Petain is that he was convicted, in the name of the French people, of national indignity during his trial in 1945," Francis Kalifat of the CRIF association of French Jewish groups.

Macron himself tried to tamp down the controversy later Wednesday, acknowledging that Petain was complicit in "grave crimes."

"I'm not forgiving anything, but I'm not going to erase anything from our history," he said.