Chirac presides over his final Bastille Day parade

17th July 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 14, 2006 (AFP) - Jacques Chirac officiated at the colourful July 14 celebrations in central Paris Friday, on what is almost certainly his last Bastille Day as president ahead of elections next year.

PARIS, July 14, 2006 (AFP) - Jacques Chirac officiated at the colourful July 14 celebrations in central Paris Friday, on what is almost certainly his last Bastille Day as president ahead of elections next year.

Amid tight security Chirac, 73, took the salute at the traditional military parade and fly-past before hosting a garden party at the Elysée palace and giving a 45-minute interview on the state of the nation carried live on television.

The president used his television appearance to urge restraint in the crisis in the Middle East, describing the Israeli bombardments of Lebanon as "disproportionate" but calling the Islamic groups Hamas and Hezbollah "absolutely irresponsible."

"In the Middle East we are currently in a situation of great fragility and instability. We are in a dangerous situation, a very dangerous situation. We must be very, very careful," he said. "We are permanently on the edge of a precipice."

Earlier Chirac was driven down the Champs Elysées in an open-top military vehicle to a reviewing-stand on the Place de la Concorde, where he watched a formation of nine Alphajets signal the start of the parade with an overhead trail of red, white and blue smoke.

More than 80 aircraft, 3,500 soldiers and gendarmes, 250 horsemen and 350 armoured vehicles took part - with a detachment of Leclerc main battle tanks included for the first time in three years after complaints about the damage they caused to the roadway in 2003.

Large crowds of onlookers were marshalled by some 5,000 police - a deployment that was beefed up after the attempt on Chirac's life by a lone gunman during the parade in 2002.

Though Chirac again did not rule out standing for a third term at elections in April 2007, few in France believe it is likely. According to a recent poll in Paris-Match magazine, he would be trounced in the first round of the election by the right-wing frontrunner, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

Chirac's 12th Bastille Day follows a year of political setbacks including the rejection of the EU's proposed constitution in a referendum, the suburban riots of last November and protests in March that forced the scrapping of a youth jobs reform. In June his popularity rating fell to just 22 percent.

However a survey Thursday suggested that with just nine months remaining of his second term in office the president has recovered some of his affection among the public - with 47 percent saying that his period in power has been "useful for France."

Commentators said the feel-good atmosphere surrounding the French football squad - beaten on penalties in Sunday's World Cup final - has rubbed off on Chirac, but also that his standing tends to improve during periods of international crisis such as is currently hitting the Middle East.

In a clear reference to Israel's bombardment after the abduction of two soldiers, Chirac said in his interview that he feared there was a "wish to destroy Lebanon - its infrastructure, its roads, its communications, its energy. And for what?"

But he was also strongly critical of Hezbollah and Hamas, saying they were engaged in a process of "provocation-repression ... these people are totally irresponsible."

On domestic issues Chirac cited the recent fall in unemployment as evidence of France's positive potential. He also expressed unuusally strong praise for Sarkozy - with whom he has had tense relations - saying there was "no reason to doubt" that he has the stature for presidential office.

The eve of France's national holiday was marked by sporadic violence in the high-immgration "banlieues" - with some 150 cars set on fire overnight in the Paris region.

Celebrations culminate Friday evening with a lights and fireworks display at the Eiffel tower, this year choreographed to the music of Mozart in honour of the composer's 250th anniversary.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French News

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