French Bastille Day celebrations place Ukraine and its allies centre stage

Young people from France’s universal national service program stood and applauded as the parade got under way, happy to be watching the event in person.

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Jinnia Tchamo-Kwahou was one of them, attending for the first time. She said that the parade was “wonderful, majestic and impressive.”

A fighter jet flyover wowed the crowd as its opening formation trailed red, white and blue smoke over the Arc de Triomphe.

On the eve of Bastille Day, Macron hailed Ukraine’s unexpected ability to stand up to Russia’s aggression. He called for a review of France’s military organisation to make it more nimble in the face of changing threats.

“Each and every one of us was struck by the Ukrainian nation’s moral strength that allowed it to hold on despite an initially unfavourable balance of power,” Macron told French military brass on Wednesday night.

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In his interview on Thursday, he warned that Russia could cut off all gas to Europe to protest against Western sanctions.

He said France would work to find other energy sources, but urged the public to turn off unneeded lights and join a nationwide effort of energy “sobriety.”

Macron and other dignitaries presided over Thursday’s event in which more than 6000 people and 200 horses of France’s Republican Guard took part, along with 65 planes, 25 helicopters and 181 vehicles.

A Reaper, a sophisticated American combat drone, swooped over the parade. Such a drone embodies the modernisation of France’s military equipment and was used in Niger and elsewhere in Africa’s Sahel region as part of France’s military operation to defeat jihadists.

Drones are also a powerful symbol of the Ukraine war, where they’re being used more intensively than during any other war to date.

The motto of this year’s Bastille events, Share the Flame, was a reference to France hosting the Olympic Games in 2024. Medal-winning Olympic and Paralympic athletes were honoured at the end of the parade.

Bastille Day marks the July 14, 1789, storming of the Bastille prison in Paris by angry crowds that helped spark the French Revolution and, by extension, a spirit of national unity thanks to broad rights granted to citizens in the ensuing years.

For all the protests and other tensions France has faced in recent years, the Bastille Day events offer a moment of togetherness and celebration.

Priyogika Baddrani, a Sri Lankan refugee who works as a cleaner in Paris, felt honoured to be part of the Bastille Day parade staff.

“My children, my husband and my mother live in France,” she said. “France has become my home, providing me security, work and good pay.”

AP

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