France's President Emmanuel Macron gestures in his command car next to French Armies Chief Staff General Francois Lecointre as they review troops before the start of the Bastille Day military parade down the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, July 14, 2019.
France's President Emmanuel Macron gestures in his command car next to French Armies Chief Staff General Francois Lecointre as they review troops before the start of the Bastille Day military parade down the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, July 14, 2019.

Updated July 14, 2019, 8:40 p.m.

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. But the military parade on the capital’s iconic Champs-Elysees ended with French police firing tear gas at protestors as they attempted to disperse the crowd.

Thousands packed the iconic Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, to watch the French display of military might — and to catch a glimpse of President 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.

French soldiers parade in military vehicles during the Bastille Day military parade down the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, July 14, 2019.

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.

Crowds inspect French forces at the conclusion of the Bastille Day parade, in Paris, France, July 14, 2019. (L. Bryant/VOA)

That message resonates with Finnish retirees Laura and Matti Wiljanen. They cannot forget last century’s wars.

“I love Finland and I love EU. … Europe is losing its position in the world if it is not more united. … and I think we need a little more common defense power. … EU loves peace … and it has kept peace in Europe.”

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.

Zapata CEO Franky Zapata flies a jet-powered hoverboard or "Flyboard" during the Bastille Day military parade down the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, France, July 14, 2019.

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.

It got a thumbs up from San Francisco tourist Johnny Lin.

“Very interesting, very interesting. Military pride for the French, very nice. Kind of our Fourth of July. 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.”

A woman talks to French forces after the Bastille Day parade, in Paris, France, July 14, 2019. (L. Bryant/VOA)

President Donald 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 flyover and tank display during this year’s Independence Day celebrations in Washington, inspired this annual parade.

Members of the Gendarmerie stand in front of fences and a fire as protesters linked to the Yellow Vests movement (unseen) take part in a demonstration on the side of the annual Bastille Day ceremony, July 14, 2019, on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

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 Frederic 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 up, people crowded around the soldiers and firefighters who had been marching, snapping selfies and cheering them on.