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Amid pomp and pageantry, PM Lee gets front-row seat to Bastille Day parade

PARIS — In a first for a Singapore leader, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had a front-row seat to the French National Day parade on Saturday (July 14), joining a select group of world leaders accorded the rare honour.

Amid pomp and pageantry, PM Lee gets front-row seat to Bastille Day parade

French Char Leclerc tanks of the 5th Dragoon Regiment (5e Regiment de Dragons), take part in the annual Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris on July 14, 2018.

PARIS — In a first for a Singapore leader, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had a front-row seat to the French National Day parade on Saturday (July 14), joining a select group of world leaders accorded the rare honour.

At 10.50am local time, an M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) thundered across the sky in the blistering Parisian heat, flanked by five French Air Force Alpha Jets as part of a combined flypast.

Spectators craned their necks skywards for the aerial display, which saw 64 aircraft soar gracefully over the fashionable Champs-Elysees avenue in downtown Paris.

Some of them arrived as early as 8am to ensure they could snag a vantage point, well before French President Emmanuel Macron flagged off the spectacle.

They were seen waving little tricolour flags distributed by the French army.

"We have come here because we heard it's the best military parade in the world," gushed a 40-year-old Vietnamese man who gave his name as Koi.

The theme of this year's Bastille Day was "fraternity in arms". Besides the RSAF jet, a Belgian Alpha Jet and an Airbus A400M military transport plane from the German Air Force also zipped through the heart of the French capital.

Bastille Day commemorates the storming of a prison in 1789, a key event in the French Revolution.

United States President Donald Trump was the guest of honour for the parade last year.

Both Mr Lee and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were invited by Mr Macron as guests of honour at this year’s event, but the Japanese leader had to cancel his visit because of deadly floods and landslides ravaging the country’s western region.

They are the first Asian leaders to be invited as guests of honour in nine years. In 2009, then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attended the parade in that capacity.

French President Emmanuel Macron (C) speaks with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (C/L) as other French ministers look on during the annual Bastille Day parade. Photo: AFP

The roar of jet engines gave way to rousing military tunes, as a four-man Singapore contingent — led by Major Nicholas Tong Jun, a qualified flying instructor from RSAF’s 150 Squadron — marched down the tree-lined boulevard bearing the Singapore flag. The Singapore crew marched alongside a Japanese flag party.

Following swiftly behind were French troops involved in emergency operations to assist victims of Hurricane Irma, which devastated the French islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy last September.

The march-past also included troops from France’s military academies, army, navy, air force, cyber-defence command as well as the national police and firefighting service.

As the contingents marched into the distance, heads were again lifted skywards, as 30 helicopters — including 18 from the French Army and five from the French Air Force — drifted overhead.

Tanks and other vehicles from the French Army, Paris fire brigade and other units then cruised down Champs-Elysees, before troops mounted on horses made their appearance.

France's military chief Francois Lecointre said the parade was a "demonstration of controlled force".

The two-hour parade drew to a close just after midday with music wafting across the avenue, performed by the Musique des equipages de la Flotte marine band, the French Army choir and drummers from the Republican Guard.

The French government has mobilised around 110,000 security crew over the weekend.

The festive atmosphere is set to continue, with hundreds of thousands of people expected to take to the streets, from Paris to the smallest of villages.

Celebrations are likely to continue late into Sunday night if France lifts the World Cup for the second time. WITH AGENCIES

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