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French President Leads Bastille Day Celebration


French President Nicholas Sarkozy has led his first Bastille Day celebration since taking office, turning the Paris event into an all-European festivity.

Mr. Sarkozy Saturday led a parade of military troops from 27 European Union nations down the Champs Elysees avenue in central Paris. This is the first time that armed forces from other EU countries participated in a traditional French military parade on the July 14 national holiday. Mr. Sarkozy has repeatedly called for creation of common European defense.

President Sarkozy broke with another Bastille Day tradition when he refused to grant mass pardons to French prisoners convicted of non-violent crimes. French presidents have for years granted July 14 pardons to relieve prison crowding.

The French national holiday commemorates the 1789 storming of the Bastille prison, which marked the beginning of the French Revolution.

Cities throughout France hold military parades in the morning and fireworks in the evening on July 14. The largest parade in the capital also includes a flyover by air force jets. French communities worldwide also celebrate Bastille Day with picnics, parties and fireworks.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Portugal's Prime Minister Jose Socrates and Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani were among official guests at today's celebration in Paris.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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