Paris, France, Jul 14 – Fighter jets streaked over Paris on Saturday as part of a massive military parade in a “demonstration of controlled force” on France’s national day, due to be followed by a street party if “Les Bleus” win the World Cup.
Thousands of people, many of them tourists, thronged the Champs Elysees avenue to watch the march past involving 4,290 soldiers, 220 vehicles, 250 horses, 64 jets and 30 helicopters.
Many of them waved little tricolour flags distributed by the French army.
President Emmanuel Macron flagged off the two-hour spectacle and was joined by two guests of honour: Singapore Prime Minister Hsien Loong and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono.
The theme of this year’s Bastille Day was “fraternity in arms” and featured Spanish gendarmes, Belgian armoured vehicles and an Airbus A400M military transport plane from the German defence fleet.
– ‘World’s best military parade’ –
“We have come here because we heard it’s the best military parade in the world,” gushed a 40-year-old Vietnamese man who gave his name as Koi.
Japanese honeymooners Yoshi and Mika said they had come to witness an important French cultural event and also to see Japanese soldiers marching down the Champs Elysees.
There were two minor glitches: one of the planes in the flypast supposed to be leaving the blue, white and red colours of the national flag in their trail spread a line of red instead of blue and two motorbike-riding gendarmes fell off after a minor collision.
France’s military chief Francois Lecointre who was appointed by Macron last year after his predecessor resigned following a spat over defence spending cuts, said the July 14 parade was a “demonstration of controlled force”.
Macron has since raised the defence budget and pledged to lift it further to two percent of GDP in seven years, in line with NATO guidelines.
“With this… we will address the shortcomings of the past, improve the present and prepare the future of our country by giving it the means to defend itself,” Macron said on Friday evening.
France is deploying 110,000 police and security forces nationwide this weekend to secure the huge street parties if the national team win the World Cup on Sunday.
The country has been repeatedly targeted by extremists over previous years in attacks that have claimed 246 lives since January 2015, according to an AFP toll.
“Everything is being done so the French can live these festive moments with peace of mind, despite the terrorist threat which remains at a high level,” Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said Friday.
The Eiffel Tower will be closed to visitors for the occasion, and police requested this week that it be shut on Sunday too when the World Cup final between France and Croatia will be shown on a giant screen in the shadow of the monument.
A secured fan zone for 90,000 people will be set up for the broadcast, one of about 230 such zones across the country.
“We will stop letting people in when this limit is reached,” Paris police chief Michel Delpuech said, urging fans “to arrive as early as possible, starting at 1:00 pm (1100 GMT).”