France celebrated Bastille Day yesterday with a spectacular display of fighter jets – and with anti-terror forces marching in the yearly parade in Paris for the first time, as the country’s leadership attempted to show its muscle against extremists at home and abroad.
The national holiday came after the country was hit by terror attacks in January that killed 20 people, including the three attackers, and after an extremist beheaded his employer last month and caused an explosion that injured two people.
President Francois Hollande presided over the yearly parade on the Champs-Elysees, meeting and greeting members of the military. Alongside him was his guest of honour, Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto, whose government is smarting following the audacious prison break of a major drug lord.
Mr Hollande called on the French to remain “united” and not to give in to “fear”. This was a special tribute to the role of the country’s special forces in neutralising the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher terrorists.
Some 11,200 police and military forces were out on the streets in the Paris area, with snipers in position and officers having the means to neutralise drones or other flying objects.
Spectator Philippe Bastelisa, 55, who lives in Paris, said “it was really important that [security forces] participated in the parade, considering the situation right now and the drama of the beginning of the year.”
Katy-Pauli Giraud, 58, led a group of spectators from Calais to the festivities and said it was “great” there was heightened protection against threats on such an important holiday. “I’m not scared. I feel secure,” she said.
The parade gave special recognition to the three armies, more than 10,000 soldiers, who participated in France’s stepped-up security measures following the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
For the first time, accolades also went to emergency first-responders as well as several elite units of the national police force and gendarmerie specialising in counter-terror and hostage kidnappings.
President Hollande additionally commemorated the 70th anniversary of France’s liberation from Nazi Germany, saluting members of France’s Order of Liberation.
The spectacle included nearly 100 military planes and helicopters.