France is celebrating its national holiday Friday with whizzing warplanes and a grand Bastille Day parade in Paris -- and with more than 100,000 police deployed around the country to prevent a new outbreak of unrest in underprivileged neighborhoods.
This year, the annual events celebrating the start of the French Revolution on July 14, 1789 come in the wake of the nation’s most serious rioting in nearly 20 years, following the fatal police shooting of a teen with North African roots that laid bare anger over entrenched inequality and racial discrimination.
India is the guest of honor at this year’s Bastille Day parade, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi set to watch in the VIP tribune alongside French President Emmanuel Macron. About 240 Indian troops will lead the march down the Champs-Elysees before thousands of French forces, and French-made Indian warplanes will join the traditional flyby that wraps up the event.
France often showcases international partners on Bastille Day, and the choice of India comes as France looks to further strengthen cooperation on fighting climate change, military sales and the strategic Indo-Pacific region. But human rights were missing from the vast agenda, despite concerns raised by European lawmakers, rights groups and others.
Celebrations are held in towns and cities around France on Bastille Day, meant to celebrate France’s ideals of ’’liberty, equality and fraternity.”
But the motto rings hollow for many people living in neglected housing projects who trace their roots to former French colonies and struggle with lack of opportunity and day-to-day racism. These issues came to the fore after the police killing of 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk last month in the Paris suburb of Nanterre during a traffic stop.
The fatal shooting at point-blank range, captured on video, sparked several days of clashes with police, burning of buildings and vehicles and looting of stores in cities and towns around France.
Bracing for more violence around Bastille Day, when unrest tends to spike every year, France deployed 130,000 police Thursday and Friday. Fireworks were banned in several towns, including Nanterre, after they had been used to target police in the recent rioting.
Overnight Thursday to Friday, the Interior Ministry reported 97 people arrested in urban violence and 218 cars set alight around the country. That was slightly lower than last year.