France cancels 2020 Bastille Day parade over coronavirus


Paris (AFP)

France said Thursday it will not hold the Bastille Day military parade due to social distancing norms, replacing it with a ceremony to pay tribute to health workers fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Rather than the traditional march of soldiers and display of military hardware down the Champs-Elysees on July 14, this year will see a much smaller ceremony at the Place de la Concorde, where the parade normally ends, the presidency said.

The annual parade to mark the July 14, 1789 storming of the Bastille fortress in Paris during the French Revolution, has been held on the Champs-Elysees since World War I.

It starts at the Arc de Triomphe, a monument to those who have fought for France, to the Place de la Concorde, where King Louix XVI was beheaded in 1793 in the revolution that overthrew France's monarchy.

This year, the square will host a military ceremony with some 2,000 participants and 2,500 guests, who will gather in strict respect of social distancing rules seeking to halt the spread of the virus that has killed more than 29,000 people in France to date.

It will include a highlight of the yearly show -- the flypast -- in honour of medical personnel and all others "mobilised against the virus," the Elysee presidential palace announced.

The event will likely not be open to the public, although this decision could be reevaluated if the health situation improves before then.

Every year, thousands of people, young and old, throng the Champs-Elysees to view the spectacle of military personnel, tanks and other weapons of war rolling down the avenue to army bands as French flags flutter everywhere.

Last year's parade, themed to celebrate European military cooperation, was marred by violent clashes between police and anti-government protesters.

A year earlier, two motorcyclists from the French national gendarmerie collided during the parade and fighter jets sprayed the colours of the nation's flag in the wrong order.

President Emmanuel Macron, in his first months in office, used the 2017 Bastille Day parade to wow his guest of honour, freshly-inaugurated US President Donald Trump.

Trump was so taken by the event that he ordered a similar military parade to be held in Washington for the July 4 celebrations.