Indian armed forces contingent leads Bastille Day Parade in Paris

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Paris, July 14 (ANI): The Indian armed forces achieved a significant landmark in their history on Tuesday, when they led the massive Bastille Day military parade down Paris's majestic Champs Elysee to the backdrop of concert music, fireworks and garden parties in the presence of French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, who was the Chief Guest of Honour at the event this year.

The parade celebrates the 1789 storming of the infamous Bastille prison that marked the start of the French Revolution and the end of the country's monarchy.

The Indian contingent comprising of 400 personnel from the army, air force and navy,and commanded by by Air Commodore R K Mathur, joined 4,100 others, about 300 military vehicles, 83 motorbikes, 280 horses, 68 planes and 37 helicopters, as they moved down the Champs Elysees, from the capital's landmark Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde. The parade was led by the Indian Army's 22 Maratha Light Infantry Captain Vivek Khanduri.

Speaking before taking part in the event,Brigadier V K Chand said: "However, this is the first time when a marching contingent is marching on a republic day or a national day of a country. So, therefore it's a great honour and pride for all of us."

Lieutenant Herve of the French Armed Forces said: "I am very happy that they (Indians) came to us because these soldiers are very proud of their country and we are happy to see them performing, not only doing the march but also doing concert. I can definitely say that the lot of people enjoy the music."

Security was tight right across Paris, with nearly 10,000 policemen and gendarmes spread around the city's landmark sites, including the Eiffel Tower, where French rock hero Johnny Halliday will perform at a public concert later Tuesday.

President Sarkozy, Prime Minister Singh, their respective spouses and VVIPS from all walks of life cheered and clapped as the parade made its way through the centre of Paris.The Prime Minister's wife, Gursharan Kaur, wore a white silk sari with a pink pallu and border, while the French First Lady, Carla Bruni, wore a simple white shift dress and black ballet pumps.

This was the first time that the Indian Army was marching down the Champs Elysees. Above the parade route, two formations of Rafale, six Mirage 2000-RDI, three Alpha jets and Two Mirage F1-CRs flew together.

This was a significant development on two accounts-one was that 2009 marks 75th anniversary of the French Air Force and second, it brought home the point that India and France are looking to take bilateral defence cooperation to a higher level.

France is seeking to sell its new multi-role Rafale aircraft to India, saying they could serve as a replacement for the ageing MiG-21 fleet of the Indian Air Force (IAF).France possesses one of the leading industries in the field of aerospace and India, having one of the most vibrant economies, is planning to develop its aerospace industry both in the civil and defence sector.

A bilateral exercise called Garuda III took place between the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the French Air Force (FAF) at the Kalaikunda air force base between February 12 and 23, 2007.

It was the third such exercise between the two countries and the first involving French AWACS being staged in India. The IAF had also participated in a similar exercise held at Istres air base, France in July 2005.

The Garuda III exercise saw the participation of the Su-30 MKI, Mirage-2000 and the MIG-27 ac. The French Air Force fielded the Mirage 2000-5, the M-2000 D and the E-3F AWACS ac. The air exercises were used to refine pilot and team skills of both countries. Mock air battles in a simulated battlefield environment were also staged.

India and France also participated in a navy-air force combination exercise titled "Varuna 06" between March 27 and April 6, 2006. 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.

The decision to invite Indian soldiers underscored the close relations that exist between France and India, said French defence ministry spokesman Laurent Teisseire.

Teisseire said Paris wants to show "very clearly" its "strong relation" with India by receiving Indian troops for the first time. The Elysee (official residence of the French President) emphasized that Indian participation "honours the strategic participation" .

At the Neuve Chapelle, there is a memorial for the 9000 Indian soldiers who died in Belgium and France during the second World War. By Armistice Day in 1918, India had sent 1,38,000 troops to France and Belgium.

The parade, one of the capital's biggest annual events which lets France show off its military hardware, ended with parachutists being dropped onto the Champs Elysee, a fly past and uniformed gendarmes riding motorcycles up to the Place de la Concorde. French soldiers carrying the national flags of India and France stood at attention as President Sarkozy walked up to them to wish them well and congratulate them for a wonderful parade. By Smita Prakash(ANI)

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