PARIS (Reuters) – European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday for the traditional Bastille Day military parade in Paris, which this year honoured European military cooperation.
After riding down the iconic Champs Elysees boulevard in a military vehicle escorted by motorcycles and a cavalry procession, Macron joined leaders also including Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa for the parade, which began with a display of tech innovations.
The attractions included drones, miniature autonomous vehicles, soldiers armed with anti-drone guns, and what looked like a “flying soldier” – a man swishing in the air on a flyboard, drawing cheers from the leaders and spectators.
Bastille Day commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789, one of the key events of the French Revolution. The day has become a national holiday in France.
Some 4,300 soldiers, around 200 vehicles and more than 100 aircraft, some from other European countries, are taking part in the parade that was opened by Spanish troops.
In a Bastille Day message to the French people published before the parade, Macron said he wanted to highlight France’s irrevocable commitment to consolidate French and European security.
“Never since the end of the Second World War has Europe been so necessary. The construction of a Europe of defence, in connection with the Atlantic Alliance … is a priority for France. It is the theme of this parade,” Macron said.
“Acting together and strengthening our ability to act collectively is one of the challenges that the European Intervention Initiative, along with other key European projects, wants to address,” he added.
The European Intervention Initiative is a 10-country coalition of European militaries ready to react to crises. The French-led initiative, which includes Germany, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal, was launched last year.
While the parade ended without glitches, a French police source and a court source said some ‘yellow vest’ protesters and their leaders were detained near the Champs Elysees as they tried to stage a protest.
Authorities had banned all yellow vest protests around the area, but several demonstrators managed to get on the avenue and turned their backs, booed and whistled while President Macron was riding by at the start of the parade.
Weekly demonstrations by yellow vest protesters – named after the high-visibility jackets they wear and mostly over the cost of living – have dwindled to just a few hundred people over the past few weeks from around 300,000 nationwide in November.
Reporting by Bate Felix and Caroline Pailliez; Editing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Mark Potter