France's Bastille Day parade takes place in the shadow of Covid-19

Members of French Army military school "Ecole Militaire Interarmes" at the Bastille Day military parade on July 14, 2021.
Members of French Army military school "Ecole Militaire Interarmes" at the Bastille Day military parade on July 14, 2021. © Ludovic Marin, AFP

France marks its national day on Wednesday, July 14, after the annual military parade down the Champs-Élysées was cancelled last year due to the threat of Covid-19.


The traditional parade on France's national day returned Wednesday after a one-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

European special forces involved in anti-jihadist operations in Africa's Sahel region had a prime position in France's Bastille Day celebrations in a sign of President Emmanuel Macron's military priorities.

Around 80 French and European special forces drawn from the multinational Takuba force in the Sahel led the procession, a choice intended to send a diplomatic message from Paris.

Macron, who presided over the ceremony, is banking on often reluctant European partners to step up their commitments to Takuba. He announced plans for a drawdown of French troops in the Sahel region last month.

Paris wants Takuba — which numbers only 600 troops currently, half of them French — to take over more responsibilities from the 5,100 soldiers in France's Barkhane operation, who have been battling Islamist groups in West Africa alongside local soldiers for eight years. 

The parade in Paris was a scaled-down version of the usual event, with only 10,000 people in the stands instead of 25,000. 

The traditional fly-overs and military pageantry went ahead as planned despite the overcast weather, which also threatened to dampen firework shows around the country, another popular feature of Bastille Day, which marks the storming of the Bastille prison, a major event in the 1789 French Revolution.

Subdued celebration, and commemoration, in Nice

Alongside the nationwide festivities the southern Riviera town of Nice will also be marking the fifth anniversary of a terror attack that saw a man kill 86 people after driving a truck through a crowd of people watching Bastille Day fireworks.

Prime Minister Jean Castex will visit the city for a ceremony at the site of a memorial for the victims, where 86 doves are set to be released as a sign of peace. Nice authorities have organised a concert for later in the evening.

At 10:34pm, the time the truck rampage began, 86 beams of light will illuminate the Mediterranean waterfront to honour the dead.

Dozens of nationalities were among the victims that day on the Promenade des Anglais.

The assailant, who is believed to have been spurred on by jihadist propaganda, was shot dead by police after a two-kilometre rampage down the seaside promenade.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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