France holds first Bastille Day celebrations under Sarkozy

15th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 14, 2007 (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Saturday joined some 600,000 people at a free rock concert in central Paris at the end of his first Bastille Day as head of state.

PARIS, July 14, 2007 (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Saturday joined some 600,000 people at a free rock concert in central Paris at the end of his first Bastille Day as head of state.

The outdoor concert, starring German rock group Tokio Hotel, 1960s French rock-star Michel Polnareff and Canadian Nelly Furtado, was followed by the traditional July 14 fireworks display organised by the city authorities.

It capped a packed day in which Sarkozy had stamped his own personal style on the French national holiday.

Earlier Saturday, he presided over the traditional military parade, which this year gave pride of place to regiments from across Europe.

Sarkozy waved and smiled to the crowd as he rode in an open-top military vehicle down the Champs Elysees avenue, escorted by mounted regiments of the Republican Guard.

He momentarily brought the procession to a halt and stepped down from the vehicle to shake hands with bystanders, breaking with protocol and causing a bit of commotion in his entourage.

After watching a fly-past of Alphajets that left a trail of red, white and blue smoke, Sarkozy watched the colourful parade featuring some 900 troops from the 27 countries of the European Union.

The new president had announced shortly after taking office in May that soldiers from EU regiments would march in the parade in a strong show of European unity.

"I wanted France to be back in Europe and Europe to be present in France," said Sarkozy, 52, in a brief interview to French television.

More than 60 aircraft, 4,200 soldiers and police officers, 240 horsemen and 400 vehicles took part in the parade during which the EU anthem, Beethoven's "Ode to Joy", was played. An estimated 120,000 people looked on, said police.

Two weeks after failed bombings in London and Glasgow, Scotland, some 5,000 police officers and gendarmes handled security at the event.

Spectators had to submit to searches before they were allowed past a security cordon covering the route of the parade.

Those who could not get up close to the event climbed trees or sat on the roofs of newspaper kiosks, using cardboard periscopes to get a better view.

Sarkozy, who took over as president from Jacques Chirac in May, is riding a wave of popularity, with polls showing that 64 percent of French people approve of his performance, up six points from June.

Aside from inviting EU regiments, Sarkozy sought to put his mark on the celebrations by doing away with the Bastille Day prison pardons that last year allowed some 3,000 convicts for non-violent crimes to walk out of jail.

The president said he was fulfilling a promise he made during the election campaign to scrap the collective pardons that had been welcomed in the past as a way to ease overcrowding in jails.

Sarkozy also decided to dispense with the official televised interview and shortened the list of guests invited to the garden party at the Elysee presidential palace.

"A July 14 really unlike the others," wrote the popular Le Parisien newspaper, adding that Sarkozy wanted to turn ceremonies commemorating the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789 into a "more relaxed event, like a big national party."

Among official guests to the July 14 celebrations were the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, whose son is attending officer school in France, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and Prime Minister Jose Socrates of Portugal, whose country currently holds the EU presidency.

Barroso described as a "wonderful gesture" the decision to invite the EU regiments for the parade, saying it was a powerful symbol of European unity at a time when the continent is "trying to come together to confront globalisation."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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