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Tourists dismayed at shutdown of U.S. D-Day site in Normandy

SAINT-LAURENT-SUR-MER, France (Reuters) - American tourists visiting a D-Day cemetery in Normandy, northern France, expressed anger upon discovering that the white-cross memorial they had travelled thousands of miles to see was closed due to a U.S. government shutdown.

Thousands of Americans flock to Normandy each year to see the beaches and sharp cliff-faces where Allied soldiers made their first entry into Nazi-occupied France during a massive invasion on June 6, 1944, known as D-Day.

A year from the invasion's 70th anniversary, many came especially to visit the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, known for its pristine rows of white crosses, only to discover that its gates were chained shut.

"Due to the U.S. Government shut-down this site is closed to the public," read a sign on the gate. Dozens of roses had been strewn underneath by visitors.

A political standoff in Washington between Republicans and Democrats over the U.S. budget has shut down non-essential government services, including the American Battle Monuments Commission (AMBC) that manages dozens of cemeteries for U.S. servicemen in foreign countries.

The AMBC's website said its cemeteries and memorials commemorating some 125,000 American war dead abroad were closed temporarily due to a funding gap linked to the shutdown.

Visitors from the United States, some of whom said they had been planning their trips for months, blamed the political opportunism of congressmen for a gridlock that had deprived them access to the cemetery where ancestors were buried.

Danny and Elizabeth Ferguson, a couple from North Carolina, said they were shocked to find the cemetery closed.

"We were very very sad, after travelling so far and making such plans, to find that the government has elected to shut this place down," said Danny, a lawyer. "We think it's all political, and we think it's terrible."

While 12 nations participated in the D-Day invasion, the United States, Britain and Canada provided the bulk of troops. Some visitors said their grandfathers had fought in Normandy or been killed.

Fred Oldman, whose father was part of the invasion at Utah beach, one of five codenames given to the beaches, said he never assumed the sites would not be operating when he scheduled his trip.

"We scheduled this trip about nine months ago and unfortunately we can't go to a cemetery because our government seems to shut everything down when they can't get along," he said. "So we're very disappointed in that."

(This refile corrects name of beach to Utah, from Ohio, paragraph 11)

(Reporting by Lucien Libert; Writing by Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Pravin Char)

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