German troops march down the Champs-Elysees

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TO ENTHUSIASTIC applause, German troops yesterday took part in the annual 14 July military parade on Paris' Champs-Elysees - the avenue where Nazi occupation troops marched daily between 1940 and 1944 to drive home the humiliation of defeat.

In a ceremony heralded as another symbol of post-war reconciliation and stressing 'a European defence identity', the Germans rode in armoured vehicles as part of the contingent of the Eurocorps, the brigade set up by France and Germany as the embryo of a European army. Soldiers from Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain also took part.

The public lining the Champs-Elysees applauded the soldiers as warmly as the units from the military fire brigade and the Foreign Legion, always the most popular parts of the parade.

Although politicians have been divided over the invitation to the Germans, opinion polls show that the public is largely in favour. Reflecting the divisions, Charles Pasqua, the Gaullist Interior Minister, said the presence of Germans should not have been countenanced just after the celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of D-Day, while Francois Leotard, the Defence Minister, said it was a message to the world.

Had the invitation to the German troops, whose officers were in attendance at President Francois Mitterrand's reception in the garden of the Elysee Palace, been left for another year it would have come after the end of Mr Mitterrand's term.

In the traditional television interview marking 14 July Mr Mitterrand tried to put to rest rumours that he was contemplating running for a third term. 'Naturally, I shall not be a candidate,' he said.

'Young people aged 15 to 20, for as long as they have been politically conscious, have seen nothing but me,' he said. 'If I were in their place, I'd be a bit fed up.'

The President will be 78 by the time the two-round presidential election is held next April and May. There has been speculation, particularly among French civil servants, that Mr Mitterrand might stand if no strong Socialist candidate could be found. Of the succession, Mr Mitterrand said the right had several viable candidates and expressed his admiration for the centrist Raymond Barre, who was prime minister from 1966 to 1981.