France commemorates its national holiday, Bastille Day, with a magnificent display of whizzing warplanes and a grand parade in Paris. More than 100,000 police officers are deployed across the country to maintain order and prevent any potential unrest in underprivileged neighborhoods.
This year’s celebration takes place against the backdrop of France’s most serious riots in nearly two decades. These riots were triggered by the fatal police shooting of a teenager with North African roots, exposing deep-seated anger over inequality and racial discrimination.
India holds the distinguished position of guest of honor at the Bastille Day parade. Prime Minister Narendra Modi joins French President Emmanuel Macron in the VIP tribune to witness the spectacle. Leading the march down the iconic Champs-Elysees are approximately 240 Indian troops, followed by thousands of French forces. The parade is accompanied by a traditional flyby, featuring French-made Indian warplanes.
Bastille Day often highlights international partnerships, and this year’s choice of India emphasizes France’s commitment to strengthening cooperation in various areas, including combating climate change, military sales, and the strategic Indo-Pacific region. However, concerns raised by European lawmakers, rights groups, and others regarding human rights were notably absent from the extensive agenda.
Last year’s celebration focused on Russia’s war in Ukraine, and its echoes remain present this year. Notably, the parade features the Caesar anti-missile batteries that France is supplying to Ukraine, and Ukrainian officials are invited to join Macron in the VIP seats.
In a touching tribute, French President Macron posthumously awarded the Legion of Honor to Arman Soldin, a French journalist who lost his life earlier this year in Ukraine while reporting for the news agency Agence France-Presse.
The Bastille Day parade encompasses an impressive display of 6,500 participants marching, along with 94 planes and helicopters, 219 ground vehicles, 200 horses, and 86 dogs. Celebrations occur throughout towns and cities in France, symbolizing the nation’s cherished values of “liberty, equality, and fraternity.”
However, for many residents living in neglected housing projects with ancestral ties to former French colonies, these ideals ring hollow. They continue to face a lack of opportunities and daily experiences of racism. These issues gained prominence following the recent police killing of 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk during a traffic stop in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.
The shocking point-blank shooting, captured on video, ignited several days of clashes with the police, arson attacks on buildings and vehicles, and looting of stores across France.
While President Macron has not directly addressed the specific concerns raised by Merzouk’s killing, his focus has been on supporting the affected towns. A presidential aide stated that the recent violence would not impact the plans for the Bastille Day parade, emphasizing the importance of reaffirming national cohesion during these celebrations.
During the Bastille Day rehearsals this week, fighter jets flew over Merzouk’s hometown of Nanterre. On the parade day itself, they soared past Nanterre on their way to the Arc de Triomphe, where political and military leaders gather on the harmonious Place de la Concorde.
Anticipating potential unrest, the French government has deployed an extraordinary 130,000 police officers on Thursday and Friday. Fireworks have been prohibited in several towns, including Nanterre, due to their previous misuse in targeting law enforcement during recent riots.
Overnight between Thursday and Friday, the Interior Ministry reported 97 arrests related to urban violence and 218 cars set ablaze across the country. These numbers show a slight decrease compared to the previous year.
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