French President Nicolas Sarkozy shakes hands with a French Army African veteran during the annual Bastille Day parade in Paris.
It's July 14. Bastille Day! La Fete Nationale!
Every year, there is a parade on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. The French wear their finest finery. (My colleagues at Wait Wait... Don't Blog Me have a red carpet — tapis rouge? — round up, and Le Figaro has a great slideshow.)
In the past, other cool things used to happen. Presidents granted interviews to members of the media, to expound on the state of Republique francaise. (No hard questions allowed.) They issued mass pardons. And they hosted garden parties. President Nicolas Sarkozy has decided to forgo all those traditions.
Today's parade — somewhat controversially — recognized what the president called the "blood tie" between France and Africa.
"Troops from 13 African nations marched in Paris Wednesday, marking half a century of independence from France as part of a rain-soaked Bastille Day parade heavily criticised by human rights groups," Agence France Presse reports. "The colourful display on the Champs Elysees avenue came as rights groups accused some African leaders and armies of war crimes and of perceived shady ties between France and some of its former colonies."
According to Al Jazeera, "Rights groups were angered by the presence of countries such as Niger, where a military government took power in a coup five months ago and where French nuclear firm Areva has lucrative uranium mining contracts."
Members of Sarkozy's administration dismissed those complaints. In his speech, the president focused on the war in Afghanistan, reiterating his commitment to the conflict, even as French support for it wanes.
As NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has reported, in recent weeks, Sarkozy has been beset by low approval ratings and a political scandal.