Tuesday 24 April 2018

US president revels in military pomp to mark anniversary

A US soldier wearing a World War I unifrom at the Bastille Day parade. Photo: Reuters
A US soldier wearing a World War I unifrom at the Bastille Day parade. Photo: Reuters

James McAuley Paris

First came dozens of French soldiers in historical uniforms who rode into the Place de la Concorde square on horseback. Then French President Emmanuel Macron arrived at the Bastille Day parade viewing stage, riding in a military jeep as if it were a chariot.

A military band struck up and vintage tanks and other military equipment began rolling into the square as a video shot in action-movie style explained the technological advances France has made since World War I.

Suddenly, nine fighter jets roared past overhead, leaving a trail of red, white and blue smoke and 200 marchers wearing American World War I uniforms marched along with hundreds of French military personnel.

Watching it all with Mr Macron yesterday was US President Donald Trump, who made a last-minute trip to Paris this week to witness the grand military parade of France's Bastille Day, which this year included a tribute to the centennial anniversary of the United States entering World War I.

Even from a distance, the president could be seen eagerly leaning forward in his seat of honour and gesturing to his wife or Mr Macron as each new spectacle came forth. During short lulls, Mr Trump would pull Mr Macron in for a conversation.

Mr Trump has long been fascinated by the military and had hoped to have a similar parade to celebrate his inauguration in January, but he was prevented from doing so.

Mr Macron has been sharply criticised across the political spectrum in France for honouring Mr Trump with this visit, as the US president is deeply unpopular in France.

Yet the president was largely shielded from any dissent and from a "Don't Let Your Guard Down Against Trump" protest march that started more than a mile away from where he sat.

"Donald Trump? I don't like it. I don't understand why he's here," said one of the spectators to the military march, Riad Jhops (33), an Algerian living in Drancy, a Paris suburb, and who works for an Algerian aluminium company. "He says he has a problem with our climate treaty, and then he comes for the 14th of July."

The parade marked the end of Mr Trump's whirlwind 27-hour visit to the City of Light, which included meeting with US troops based in Europe, a visit to Napoleon's tomb, talks with Mr Macron and his staff, a news conference and dinner at an opulent restaurant in the Eiffel Tower.

Mr Trump and Mr Macron are political outsiders in the early months of their presidencies, and their relationship up until now has been defined by public confrontations.

Both leaders said they are committed to finding areas of agreement and developing a productive relationship. Both highlighted the generations-long friendship between the two nations, especially when it comes to national security.

Although Mr Trump repeatedly slammed Paris on the campaign trail - describing it as dangerous and crime-ridden because of an influx of immigrants - he said on Thursday that his view has changed now that Mr Macron is in office and that he looks forward to returning to Paris.

Paris law enforcement officials had planned for heightened security on Bastille Day after a terrorist last year drove a truck through a crowd that had just watched a fireworks display in the southern seaside city of Nice, killing 86 people. (© Washington Post)

Irish Independent

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