Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 30 October 2014

Africans open Bastille Day parade

Helicopters fly in formation over the Champs Elysees Avenue during a Bastille Day celebration in Paris (AP)

Troops from 13 African countries which took part in the French-led war against al Qaida-linked extremists in Mali marched with the French military during the Bastille Day parade in Paris to honour their role in the conflict.

UN troops in blue berets who are helping to stabilise the west African nation of Mali also paraded with thousands of other soldiers down the Champs-Elysees Avenue in France's annual tribute to military might. It marks the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789, by angry Paris crowds that helped spark the French Revolution.

Despite the triumphal display, which included flyovers by fighter jets, tanks and giant trucks mounted with land-to-air defence systems, the realities in Mali suggest that President Francois Hollande's military intervention has had mixed results.

The mission he launched in January helped the Malian government retake control of much of the country from al Qaida-linked extremists who had seized northern Mali and threatened the capital. The nation is to hold elections on July 28, but tensions involving rebel Tuaregs in the north linger, along with political instability.

Sunday's events, however, focused on the positive.

"It's a victory that was won," Mr Hollande said in an interview after the parade with the France 2 and TF-1 television stations in the garden of the presidential Elysee Palace. "Look at what happened. It was a victory for Africa, a victory against terrorism, and pride that we must have."

He said earlier the presence of African troops in Paris on the French national day was a "tribute to those who actively helped to banish terrorism from the Malian territory".

Referring to trips he's made to Africa, including a February visit to Mali, four weeks after the start of the French intervention, Mr Hollande said, "I was saluted in Africa, not for what I said but for what I did."

He noted that some extremists once lodged in Mali escaped into southern Libya and other neighbouring countries. He said those nations need support, "but we won't make war everywhere."

Mr Hollande oversaw the display of military might that France rolls out each year on Bastille Day with Mali interim President Dioncounda Traore and UN chief Ban Ki-moon at his sides. Defence ministers from the African nations represented in the parade also were present.

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