France marks Bastille Day with military parade

AP News
Posted: Jul 14, 2011 1:51 PM
France marks Bastille Day with military parade

French forces, including contingents with troops in Afghanistan and warplanes over Libya, celebrated Bastille Day on Thursday with the traditional military parade down Paris' famed Champs-Elysees Avenue, and for the first time with song.

But the singing troops, and French Polynesian soldiers dancing the Haka in front of President Nicolas Sarkozy, were up against a note of gloom that accompanied this year's parade because of French military casualties. On Thursday, a French soldier was killed in Afghanistan, a day after a suicide attack killed five others there.

Sarkozy, who heads France's armed forces, held a crisis meeting immediately after the parade to plan for new security measures as the nation begins a staggered withdrawal this year of most of its 4,000 troops in Afghanistan.

"We are confronted with terrorist actions which are extremely brutal and those who carry them out will have to answer for them," Sarkozy said after the parade. "In the face of this new context, we need new security measures."

This year's military parade was dedicated to forces in France's far-flung regions and those posted in foreign countries such as Afghanistan. But Sarkozy, who made a surprise visit to French troops in Afghanistan on Tuesday, said he wants this Bastille Day "to be dedicated to all the soldiers killed in operations."

No new security measures to accompany the transition period of staggered withdrawal were immediately announced.

In Paris, crowds of thousands reveled in Thursday's pomp, fanfare and precision marches of the parade from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde.

The Bastille Day holiday marks the July 14, 1789, storming of the Bastille prison in Paris by angry crowds, which helped spark the French Revolution.

Numerous contingents sang as they marched, a first in a Bastille Day parade.

A contingent back from the Ivory Coast was among those in the limelight, as well as contingents whose members served in Afghanistan. Overhead, pilots from the ongoing NATO-led air campaign streaked their jet fighters above the avenue, and helicopters _ missile-firing Gazelles and rocket-firing Tigers used in Afghanistan _ chopped their way through the air.

On the ground, rarely seen camouflaged parachutists, their faces painted like their camouflage uniforms, marched, as did the Foreign Legion, decked out in their traditional orange aprons. Members of the Republican Guard, wearing shiny helmets with horsehair ponytails, pranced their horses before the crowd to the roll of drums.

The display gives the French a birds-eye view of their armed forces and what they do. Tanks and armored vehicles rumbled before them, as did an anti-air surveillance squadron equipped with radar and missiles, and massive trucks equipped to make water potable.


Associated Press Television News contributed to this report.