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Charlie attacks, Africa interventions set grim mood for France's Bastille Day celebrations

French President Francois Hollande (L), Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (C) and Mexico's First Lady Angelica Rivera at the Bastille Day parade 14 July 2015 Reuters/Mal Langsdon

The trauma of this year's Charlie Hebdo attacks and France's military presence in Africa overshadow the Bastille Day national holiday. For the first time ever special anti-terror units join the annual military parade down Paris's Champs Elysées and President François Hollande appealed for national unity ahead of the 14 July celebrations.

The year began with the attacks on the office of Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket and since seen a man with Islamist links beheading his boss and attacking a chemical plant and reports of youngsters leaving France to join jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq.

Click for RFI reports of the Charlie Hebdo killings

And France's presence in Africa has increased, with troops in the Central African Republic (CAR), to back a government established during a sectarian war, and Mali and the Sahel area, to combat armed Islamist groups.

"Fundamentalist terrorism has set up shop just a few hours' flight from our homeland," Hollande said at a reception at the Ministry of Defense on Monday.

"Faced with these attacks and threats, our country must say no to division because that's what the terrorists want and fear could be the worst poison in our national community."

For the first time some of France's elite anti-terror units, which took on the Charlie Hebdo killers, will join the Bastille Day parade, as will some of the 10,000 troops stationed across the country to protect vulnerable sites.

With the Sangaris operation in the CAR and Barkhane in the Sahel.

Dossier: War in Mali

Hollande was expected to return to the theme during his Bastille Day interview on Tuesday.

With military chiefs complaining that they are overstretched, the traditional afternoon meet-the-people exercise has been cancelled and the troops were to return to barracks once the parade was finished.

This year Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto was to join Hollande on the viewing podium and more than 150 Mexican soldiers were to lead the parade, among them military falconers with their golden eagles and buzzards.

On Monday Neito spoke at Paris's Latin American Cultural Centre, received a medal from the Sorbonne University and met Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

However, his visit was overshadowed by the domestic fallout of the escape of drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's from a maximum security prison over the weekend.

Activists who call his government authoritarian and corrupt were due to protest at his visit.



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