PARIS - World leaders joined French President Emmanuel Macron for the country's traditional Bastille Day parade Sunday, aimed this year to showcase European defense cooperation. The military display comes at a time when Europe is facing key tests.
Thousands packed the iconic Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, to watch the display of military might - and to catch a glimpse of Macron and the cortege of leaders and dignitaries joining him. Roughly 4,300 soldiers, 200 vehicles and more than 100 aircraft took part in the parade.
Some of the arsenal came from the nine other European countries belonging to the year-old, French-led European Intervention Initiative, which aims to respond to crises. European defense solidarity was the key message of this year's parade honoring Bastille Day, which marks the 1789 storming of the Bastille prison, a key event of the French revolution.
Experts say European unity is being tested not only by Brexit, but also by mounting nationalism and thorny international issues like Iran. In a message published before the event, Macron said never since the end of World War II has Europe been so necessary.
That message resonated with Finnish retirees Laura and Matti Wiljanen, who were in the French capital for the parade They said cannot forget last century's wars. Both supporters of the EU, they said that Europe will lose its position in the world if it does not become more united and does not embrace the need for a more common defense power. The EU loves peace and it has kept the peace in Europe, they said.
Beyond the big messages, the parade offered crowd pleasers like a former French ski champion zooming through the air on a turbine-engine-powered "flyboard" with potential military uses down the road.
It got a thumbs up from San Francisco tourist Johnny Lin.
"Very interesting. Military pride for the French, very nice. Kind of our Fourth of July. [President Donald] Trump wants to do something like this in America. Don't think it's worth the money. But it's very nice to see it here," said Lin.
Trump joined Macron for Bastille Day two years ago, to highlight strong transatlantic ties. Relations between the two leaders have since cooled, but Trump did preside over a more modest fly-over and tank display during this year's Independence Day celebrations in Washington, apparently inspired by France's annual parade.
Along with the troops, domestic politics were also on display at the Paris parade, as members of France's Yellow Vest protest movement booed Macron.
But spectator Frederique Serre was more interested in the show. The parade was magnificent, she said. Everyone needs to see it once in their lifetime.
As things wound down, people crowded around the soldiers and firemen who had been marching, snapping selfies and cheering them on.