France holds first Bastille Day celebrations under Sarkozy

President Nicolas Sarkozy on Saturday officiated for the first time over Bastille Day celebrations, with the Champs Elysee parade giving pride of place to military units from across Europe.

France holds first Bastille Day celebrations under Sarkozy
Two months after taking office, Sarkozy waved and smiled to the crowd as he rode in an open-top military vehicle down the Champs Elysee in central Paris, escorted by mounted regiments of the Republican Guard.

He momentarily brought the procession to a halt and stepped down from the vehicle to shake hands with bystanders, breaking with protocol and causing a bit of commotion in his entourage.

"It's a nice day. Our European partners are here and there are lots of people out," Sarkozy commented as he greeted the crowd on a sunny July 14 national holiday.

After watching a flypast of Alphajets that left a trail of red-white-and blue smoke, Sarkozy presided over the traditional parade which this year featured some 900 troops from the 27 countries of the European Union.

The new president had announced shortly after taking office that soldiers from EU regiments would take part in the military parade, which he said would be a "wonderful symbol" of European unity.

Sarkozy, who took over from Jacques Chirac, led national celebrations on a high note, with polls showing that 64 percent of French people approve of his performance, up six points from June.

Aside from inviting EU regiments, Sarkozy sought to put his mark on the celebrations by doing away with the Bastille Day prison pardons that last year allowed some 3,000 convicts for non-violent crimes to walk out of jail.

The president said he was fulfilling a promise he made during the election campaign to scrap the collective pardons that had been welcomed in the past as a way to ease overcrowding in jails.

Sarkozy also decided to dispense with the official televised interview and shortened the list of guests invited to the garden party at the Elysee presidential palace.

"A July 14 really unlike the others," wrote the popular Le Parisien newspaper, which noted that Sarkozy wanted to turn ceremonies commemorating the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789 into a "more relaxed event, like a big national party."

Among official guests to the July 14 celebrations were the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, whose son is attending officer school in France, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and Prime Minister Jose Socrates of Portugal, whose country currently holds the EU presidency.

More than 60 aircraft, 4,200 soldiers and police officers, 240 horsemen and 400 vehicles took part in the colourful military parade that was to end with a formation of 37 helicopters to mark the 100th anniversary of the first helicopter flight.

To round off the day, a big outdoor concert was to be held in central Paris starring German rock group Tokio Hotel, 1960s French rock-star Michel Polnareff and Canadian Nelly Furtado, who is of Portuguese origin.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 14 Temmuz 2007, 17:27