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France - Bastille Day

Paris parade marks centenary of the Somme

President Francois Hollande at the Bastille Day parade
President Francois Hollande at the Bastille Day parade REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Troops from Australia and New Zealand joined France's annual Bastille Day parade Thursday to commemorate their participation in the Battle of the Somme.

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The 85 New Zealanders, some wearing traditional Maori dress, and 140 Australian soldiers were invited to the parade on the Champs Elysées avenue "as part of the centenary commemorations of the Battle of the Somme", General Bruno Le Ray, the military governor of Paris, told a briefing.

Booth and his countrymen will participate in the parade of more than 3,000 men and women on foot, and 241 on horseback.

Today’s parade is the last for President Francois Hollande under the current presidency as France goes to the polls next year.

More than 200 vehicles are taking part, while 55 planes and 30 helicopters are scheduled to fly overhead. There is also 236 horses, and 36 dogs taking part in the parade.

Eight jets from the Patrouille de France aerobatics team will form the shape of the Eiffel Tower to promote Paris's bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games.

Some 11 500 police officers and gendarmes have also been deplyed for security reasons and to managed the massive crowd on Paris’ Champs Elysees and Place de la Concorde.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is also among the foreign guests, alongside New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

The presence of Australian and Kiwi troops in the display of military pomp and splendour is just the latest in a series of commemorations for the battle.

Britain's royal family attended a ceremony at the Somme battlefield on July 1 to remember the one million who were left dead, injured or missing in the 141-day battle.

South African President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday inaugurated a new memorial wall to honour both black and white soldiers from his country at the site of the Battle of Delville Wood where some 3,000 fell in July 1916. The battle was part of the fighting in the Somme.

The French government say Australia's invitation as this year's guest of honour for the July 14 celebrations underlines the healthy state of relations between the two countries. France was chosen to build Australia's submarine fleet in a contract worth €34 billion ($37.6 billion).

With France still on high alert for terror attacks, the parade will take place under heavy security.

The demands on the French military have risen sharply since the jihadists struck Paris in two sets of attacks last year, killing a total of 147 people.

An increase in recruits for the military as a result of the attacks will be reflected in the participation of officer training schools in the parade.

 

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