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NYC firemen at Bastille parade

Bastille Day parade
Chirac continued with his review of the troops despite the gun incident  

PARIS, France -- Paris's Bastille Day celebration -- scene of the arrest of a gunman just after President Jacques Chirac passed by -- is a traditional parade of armed forces, police and fire brigades.

It is usually a case of ceremonial precision rather than high drama like Sunday's incident when a 25-year-old man was wrestled to the ground, his gun firing a bullet during the struggle. (Full story)

Though this year's marchpast was already slightly different -- it included a tribute to the New York Fire Department and the firemen who perished in the September 11 terror attacks.

Since 1880, Bastille Day has been celebrated annually on July 14 as the national independence festival of France.

The date commemorates the capture of the Bastille, a state prison in Paris that fell to a mob on July 14, 1789, signalling the end of the reign of Louis XVI and the beginning of the French Revolution.

The holiday is celebrated with marches, speeches, and fireworks across France as well as in many other former French colonies.

The highlight of the celebrations is the Paris parade showing the military strength of the fifth French republic.

This year West Point officer cadets, New York City firemen and French veterans of Afghanistan peacekeeping missions were the highlights of the hour-long show of French troops, tanks and military aircraft.

The mounted Republican Guards, branches of the service including the Foreign Legion, and military jets streaming the red, white and blue of the French flag overhead were among the displays.

The parade descended the Champs Elysees avenue under grey skies, and followed calls on Saturday from Chirac and Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie for higher defence spending to fight terrorism and catch up with Europe's other main military power, Britain.

West Point cadets
U.S. cadets from West Point led the Bastille Day parade  

Poignantly, 75 New York City firemen and relatives of firefighters who died in the suicide jet attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11 watched the parade as guests of their Paris colleagues.

A New York pumper truck rumbled down the avenue with the Paris firemen's contingent, to the applause of the crowd. Four firemen who survived the Twin Towers' collapse rode inside in full firefighting gear.

In another sign of French-American partnership, 163 West Point cadets, sporting the trim grey jackets and white trousers of the U.S. military academy, marched at the head of the parade as this year's main guests.

West Point is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, as is the French military academy Saint-Cyr whose cadets also marched in the parade.

The parade also marked the 200th anniversary of France's Legion of Honour, founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802.

At a Defence Ministry reception on Saturday, Chirac said France had to increase its defence spending "if we want, in this troubled and unsettled international context, to guarantee the security of our citizens and influence the international choices that affect our interests."

Alliot-Marie, France's first female defence minister, told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper that military spending would probably be boosted over the next four years under a bill that would be presented to the National Assembly later this year.

She also said France was considering construction of a second aircraft carrier. "We are looking for ways to cooperate on this with the British," she said.

In his remarks on Saturday, Chirac said France's soldiers stationed in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan or sailors on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea "symbolise France's commitment in the merciless combat against terrorism."


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