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France honours India in Bastille Day military parade

india Updated: Jul 14, 2009 15:40 IST

AFP
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A proud detachment of Indian troops on Tuesday led thousands of French comrades down the Champs Elysee in Paris for the annual military parade to mark the Bastille Day national holiday.

The 400 soldiers filed down the elegant venue under the eyes of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, invited by President Nicolas Sarkozy to mark France's strategic relationship with the world's biggest democracy.

Dressed in ceremonial uniforms of red and black headdress, cummerbunds and white putees and gloves, the Indians marched from the Arc de Triomphe to the presidential stand at the end of the 1.5-kilometre (one mile) parade.

Drawn from the army, navy and the air force, the contingent paraded to the sound of Indian martial music played by a 90-member band in a ceremony shown live by all Indian television news channels.

French air force jets flew overhead, releasing trails of red, white and blue smoke to represent the colours of the French flag.

Singh and Sarkozy were joined in the presidential stand by the French president's pop star wife Carla Bruni, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, German President Horst Koehler and other dignitaries.

Inviting Indian soldiers to take part in the Bastille Day march for the first time shows that Paris wants to emphasise its close relations with India.

France is one of the key arms suppliers for India's military, and French firm Areva has signed a draft accord for the sale of up to six nuclear reactors to the country.

Among the French soldiers marching in the Bastille Day parade, units who have recently returned from operations abroad -- in places like Afghanistan, Kosovo and Lebanon -- were given prominent positions in the parade.

The Bastille Day march has been held under heightened security since an attempted attack on president Jacques Chirac in 2002.

It is held each year on July 14, the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille fortress in Paris by revolutionaries in 1789. It was the symbolic starting point of the movement that led to the first French republic.

Celebrations are held across the country, with the biggest event this year likely to be a free concert later in the day by French rock icon Johnny Hallyday at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

Up to 800,000 people were expected at the gig on the Champ de Mars park, which will close with a fireworks display to mark the 120th anniversary of the tower, the world's most visited tourist attraction, police said.

The gig is part of a farewell tour by Halliday, France's answer to Elvis Presley.

Bastille Day has also become an occasion for disaffected youths from bleak suburban housing projects to express their frustration with high unemployment rates and what they see as France's failure to integrate ethnic minorities.

They burned 317 vehicles and wounded 13 police officers overnight across the country on the eve of the national holiday, police said on Tuesday.

By 6:00 am (0400 GMT), police headquarters in Paris had recorded 317 burnt out cars -- up 6.7 percent on 2008 -- and 240 arrests, almost double the total for the same period last year.

These numbers were expected to increase as fresh reports came in.

The injured officers, 12 members of the police and one gendarme, were mainly suffering from hearing difficulties after being targeted by youths throwing fireworks and small-scale home-made explosives.