France marked its national day with a military march down the Champs Elysees, led this year by Indian army troops, and celebrations continued into the night with a concert by French rock icon Johnny Hallyday and a massive fireworks display.
A proud detachment of Indian troops on Tuesday led thousands of French comrades down the Champs Elysees in Paris for the annual military parade to mark the Bastille Day national holiday.
The festivities continued into the night as some 700,000 spectators gathered near the Eiffel Tower to watch French rock legend Johnny Hallyday give a free concert. An immense metallic eagle with illuminated red eyes -- Hallyday's symbol for his "Tour 66" -- was erected to dominate the scene. A massive fireworks display followed, lighting up the July night sky.
At the military parade earlier on Tuesday, 400 Indian soldiers filed down the elegant venue under the eyes of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, invited as guest of honour by President Nicolas Sarkozy to mark France's strategic relationship with the Asian giant.
Dressed in ceremonial uniforms of red and black headdress, cummerbunds and white puttees 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, and the parade came to a close with parachutists floating down on to the Place des Invalides.
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.
After watching the parade Sarkozy and his wife went among the huge crowds to shake hands and chat with members of the public before heading to the presidential Elysee palace for the traditional garden party.
There the French president noted that "in 20 or 30 years India will be the most populated country in the world, it is a friend of France and above all it is the world's biggest democracy."
Singh for his part paid tribute to France, saying that "in our own country our freedom struggle was immensely inspired by the French ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity."
France is one of the key arms suppliers for India's technology-hungry military, and is negotiating to supply technology to India's civilian nuclear programme.
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.
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, the symbolic starting point of the movement that led to the first French republic.
The Hallyday gig will close with a fireworks display to mark the 120th anniversary of the tower, police said.
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 more than 300 vehicles and wounded 13 police officers overnight across the country on the eve of the national holiday, police said 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.
Date created : 2009-07-14