Indian troops honoured on France's Bastille Day

By AFP

June 18, 2010 Updated Jul 14, 2009 at 10:11 AM EDT

Indian troops will star at France's Bastille Day military parade on Tuesday, with a proud 400-strong detachment marching down the Champs Elysees under the eyes of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

France has been building closer ties with India, an emerging economic giant, and is seeking contracts to supply weapons and civilian nuclear technology.

The troops' presence shows France believes "India has a primary role on the international scene, and that we support India?s candidacy to become a UN Security Council permanent member," President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said.

Drawn from the army, navy and the air force, the contingent will parade to the sound of Indian martial music played by a 90-member band as they descend the chic Parisian avenue alongside thousands of French soldiers.

"It is a proud day for India as our troops will march in a country where they fought during World War I," defence ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar told AFP as the contingent left last week on two Airbus planes sent by France.

Indian soldiers under British command were part of two Allied divisions that fought the Germans around the northern French town of Neuve-Chapelle in 1915.

Inviting Indian soldiers to take part in the Bastille Day march for the first time shows that Paris wants to emphasise its close relations with India, said French defence ministry spokesman Laurent Teisseire.

France also wants the G8 grouping of rich nations to be expanded to take in major emerging economies like India, the world's biggest democracy, officials said last week during the group's summit in Italy.

Prime Minister Singh, who was in Italy for the summit, was invited to attend the July 14 French national holiday event as guest of honour by Sarkozy, who attended India's Republic Day celebrations in January 2008.

Singh last travelled to Paris in September 2008 to sign a major deal on civil nuclear cooperation between the two countries.

French state-controlled group Areva has signed a draft accord for the sale of up to six nuclear reactors to India, a huge new market now open after a nuclear trade embargo on New Delhi was lifted.

France is one of the key arms suppliers for India's technology-hungry military, and the French firm Dassault Aviation is in the race for a mammoth contract to supply 126 fighters to the Indian air force.

A jet contract could be worth up to 12 billion dollars (8.6 billion euros).

France and India have been steadily developing strong military ties. In April the Indian and French navies took part in anti-submarine exercises off the coast of the western state of Goa.

Among the French soldiers marching in the Bastille Day parade, units who have recently returned from operations abroad -- in places like Afghanistan, Kosovo and Lebanon -- will be given prominence, officials said.

The parade, one of the capital's biggest annual events which lets France show off its military hardware, will end with parachutists being dropped onto the Champs Elysee.

The Bastille Day celebrations have been held under heightened security since an attempted attack on president Jacques Chirac in 2002.

The parade is held each year on July 14, the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille fortress in Paris by revolutionaries on July 14, 1789. It was the symbolic starting point of the movement that led to the first French republic.




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