Detachments of the French and Malian troops who defeated Islamist rebels in Mali earlier this year took pride of place in France’s traditional Bastille Day military parade along the Champs Elysées today.
Critics complained that the annual procession had been turned into a “victory parade”, which did not reflect the somewhat muddled outcome of the French intervention. Small groups of soldiers from the 13 African countries who are policing the uneasy peace in Mali also joined the parade and fly-past.
President François Hollande, who saluted the troops from a military command vehicle, said that the presence of the veterans of the short, desert conflict was a “tribute to those who helped to banish terrorism” from Mali. “We did achieve a victory and we should be proud of it,” he said.
Political opponents said that Mr Hollande was trying to use his broadly successful Malian intervention to distract from France’s economic problems and his poor poll ratings after 14 months in office.
The parade was the shortest for many years. There were 35 per cent fewer military vehicles than in 2012 and 12 per cent fewer aircraft to reflect Mr Hollande’s wider efforts to reduce the cost of the French state. Although military spending has been slashed less than other areas, the Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian acknowledged yesterday that the prospect of further cuts, so soon after the Mali “victory”, was undermining morale in the French military.
The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon was invited to the parade along with the defence ministers from the 13 African countries policing Mali. Although the fighting is largely over, 3,200 French soldiers remain in Mali to protect the presidential elections in two weeks’ time.
After the parade, President Hollande gave a “state of the nation” interview to two French television channels in which he claimed that “economic recovery” was now under way. He repeated his pledge that the rising tide of unemployment would be reversed from the start of next year.
Mr Hollande, who has been criticised at home and abroad, for raising taxes too sharply promised that in 2014 higher taxes would only be imposed “if necessary… and then by the least amounts possible”.
Track fault thought to be cause of fatal rail accident
A fault in the track is believed to have caused the train crash 25 miles south of Paris on Friday night in which six people died.
Although vandalism or sabotage have not been ruled out, President François Hollande said yesterday that an “equipment failure” appeared to have caused France’s worst railway accident for eight years.
Four of those who died, including a couple in their 80s, were waiting for a train at the suburban station at Brétigny-sur-Orge when the last four carriages of a Paris-to-Limoges express de-railed at 80mph and smashed into the platform. The other two victims were aboard the express.
The accident has generated a row over the alleged obsolescence of equipment on “traditional” railway lines in France after 30 years of priority investment in high-speed railway lines. Three investigations have been launched.
Senior officials of the French state railways, the SNCF, say the accident was caused by a metal joint in the track which came loose and lodged in a complex piece of point work, derailing the last four carriages of the express.