France celebrates July 14 amid virus fears and tensions – .

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France celebrates July 14 amid virus fears and tensions – .


PARIS – July 14 is back, in a way.

France celebrated its national day on Wednesday with thousands of soldiers marching in a parade in Paris, warplanes roaring overhead and traditional festivals across the country, after last year’s events took hold. been reduced due to fears of viruses.

Two horses stumbled while parading the Champs-Elysées, knocking down their uniformed riders, but overall the main event of the day went as planned and looked a lot like Bastille Days of the past. One soldier even took the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend on the cobblestone avenue, kneeling down and kissing her hand.

However, the virus was never far away. A small group of protesters angry at the new vaccine rules clashed with police amid tear gas blasts in Paris. Meanwhile, concerns about the resurgence of infections have prompted some cities to cut back on annual fireworks gatherings.

At the Parisian parade, the number of spectators was limited. Each person present was required to present a special pass proving that they had been fully vaccinated, had recently recovered from the virus, or had a negative virus test. Similar restrictions were in place for those watching an elaborate fireworks display at the Eiffel Tower on Wednesday evening.

Onlookers converged on Paris from across France, happy to be able to see the parade in person even though they were frustrated by the restrictions and long lines for antivirus security checks.

“I came especially for my son who walks today,” said Gaelle Henry from Normandy. “It’s good to be able to get out there for a bit and finally get some fresh air and think that everyone’s there, and we’re getting back to normal a bit. “

Masks were omnipresent among the spectators, and de rigueur for the dignitaries who watched the parade under a red-white and blue awning imitating the French flag.

The clatter of hundreds of horseshoes accompanied military music as uniformed mounted guards escorted President Emmanuel Macron. Cheers rose from civilian spectators as Macron walked past restaurants, luxury boutiques and cinemas closed for much of the past year and a half.

But not everyone is cheering for his handling of the pandemic. Some cafe owners, hospital workers and parents are pushing back his decision this week to require all French health workers to be vaccinated, and a special COVID pass for anyone over 12 visiting restaurants.

Many doctors and scientists, meanwhile, are calling for stricter measures to contain the virus.

A few hundred demonstrators chanting “Freedom! Freedom ! marched through eastern Paris on Wednesday, confronting riot police who fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse the advancing crowd. Protesters and police kicked tear gas canisters at each other, and cyclists quietly crept through the crowd.

The organizers of this year’s parade called it “an optimistic July 14” aimed at “winning the future” and “celebrating a united France behind the tricolor to emerge from the pandemic”. While this optimism was widely felt in France a few weeks ago, the clouds have returned to the national mood as the delta variant fuels new infections.

Leading the parade were members of a European force fighting extremists in Mali and the surrounding Sahel region. Macron announced last week that France is withdrawing at least 2,000 troops from the region due to evolving threats and is focusing its efforts more on the multinational force Takuba.

Other people honored at the parade included military medics who transported vaccines to French overseas territories, treated patients infected with the virus, or otherwise helped fight the pandemic.

Mirage and Rafale fighter planes thunder in formation. In the closing moments of the parade, two horses stumbled, knocking their Republican Guard riders onto the sidewalk. The guards quickly overpowered the horses and took them away. The reason for the fall was not clear.

Just before the ceremony, a soldier identified as Maximilian proposed to his girlfriend in a picturesque moment against the backdrop of the Arc de Triomphe, earning a round of warm applause.

Macron and his wife Brigitte spoke at length after the ceremony with the families of soldiers killed or injured in the performance of their duties. On the eve of the event, Macron reiterated his willingness to strengthen defense cooperation between European countries and strengthen global defense efforts against Islamic extremists.

“This moment of conviviality, of reunion (…) is above all an opportunity for us to address our brothers in arms and their families, and to send them a message of gratitude,” Macron said.

Last year’s parade was canceled and replaced with a static ceremony honoring healthcare workers who died fighting COVID-19. France has lost more than 111,000 lives in total as a result of the pandemic.

Bastille Day marks the capture of the Bastille prison in eastern Paris on July 14, 1789, commemorated as the birth of the French Revolution.

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Patrick Hermansen contributed to this report.

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