France is celebrating Bastille Day.

Leaders from Europe, the Middle East and North Africa - as well as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon - joined French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the celebrations.

The world leaders were already in Paris for Sunday's inaugural Mediterranean Union summit.   

The presence of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad among leaders reviewing the parade has angered human rights activists, opposition politicians and some in the French military who served in a United Nations peace force in Lebanon.  Mr. Assad has been accused of sponsoring terrorism and undermining Middle East unity.

On the occasion of Bastille Day, Mr. Sarkozy granted his country's highest award - the Legion of Honor - to a number of notables, including former French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt.

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 includes a flyover by air force jets.  French communities worldwide also celebrate Bastille Day with picnics, parties and fireworks.  



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