Newly elected French President Francois Hollande celebrated his first-ever National Day (known outside of France as Bastille Day) as head of state on Saturday with usual pomp, military parade and flight show.
At 10:00 a.m. local time, Francois Hollande presided the military parade down the Champs Elysees Avenue, which involved some 4,950 soldiers, 368 armored vehicles, 241 horses and 98 jets and helicopters.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault hailed a “national unity,” adding that the Bastille Day represented “an opportunity for the French to come together around the values of France.”
The president’s girlfriend Valerie Trierweiler, who had been keeping a low profile after tweeting her support for a rival of Francois Hollande’s ex-companion Segolene Royal in legislative elections last month, made her first public appearance on Saturday.
The two-hour parade was closed by a paratroop air show near the Concorde Square. After the parade, Francois Hollande was scheduled to join injured soldiers in Afghanistan to lunch.
Francois Hollande promised to withdraw French combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, two years ahead of the alliance’s plan.
However, the president said France would continue to support Afghanistan in civilian fields including health, education, culture and agriculture and also assist its defense and interior ministries in training.
“This July 14th is the last one of our combat units in Kapisa to pass in Afghanistan. Two thousand soldiers will return to their homes at the end of the year,” the president said when addressing a group of ministers and military figures on the eve of the National Day.
“It is an act of sovereignty that France has posed freely. I took this decision, in harmony with our allies, and with the agreement of the Afghan authorities,” he noted.
Francois Hollande also unveiled a new white paper on defense and national security, the fourth document of its kind for the country, which aims to “define our defense strategy and capabilities of our forces for the next 15 years,” he said.
“The objective is to ensure the long term performance, efficiency and balance of our forces,” he stressed.
In a televised interview later in the afternoon, the head of state will review his first two months of presidency, which has been overshadowed by eurozone crisis and jumping unemployment rate following a wave of job cuts in the country’s leading companies.
Wet summer weather is unlikely to dampen the enthusiasm of Parisians and visitors who turned out in large numbers to witness the annual celebration.
Gardens of the Elysee Palace will be open to visitors throughout the afternoon. Huge crowds are expected to enjoy fireworks display centered on the Eiffel Tower and across the country.
Bastille Day marks July 14, 1789, when French citizens stormed the Bastille prison in Paris, which helped spark the French Revolution.