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France

African troops take part in Bastille Day parade

African troops have marched alongside France’s military in the Bastille Day parade. The event comes after an official said that a faulty rail joint may have caused Friday's train crash that claimed six lives near Paris.

French President Francois Hollande hoped to use Sunday's national holiday to focus on the success of the country's first military intervention since he took office a year ago. In all, 4,800 troops marched past the presidential stage, where Hollande stood next to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

"Their presence is a tribute to those who actively helped to banish terrorism of the Malian territory," Hollande said of the African troops marching in Paris.

Bastille Day marks the July 14, 1789, storming of a prison that helped spark the French Revolution. This year, 241 horses, 265 vehicles, 58 planes and 35 helicopters participated. Among the assembled soldiers were German troops from Donaueschingen's 292nd Battalion and the German-French Brigade.

Other issues

Following the parade, Hollande was to face journalists in a major television interview in which he was expected to be questioned about France's economy and Friday's train derailment.

Government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said Hollande would deliver a "proactive message on returning to growth and a promising future."

With his popularity at rock-bottom, Hollande, a socialist, can be expected to defend his 14 months in office since taking over from the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy. Observers say he will also likely try to explain how he plans to handle Europen Union-mandated budget cuts planned for this year. This includes proposed changes to France's pension schemes, which have already sparked calls from unions for general strikes. According to a BVA poll released on Friday, respondents said they most wanted to hear from Hollande about unemployment and economic growth, with far less interest in subjects like immigration, security or foreign affairs.

A shadow cast

This year's Bastille Day comes as the thoughts of many French citizens are with the victims of Friday's train derailment south of Paris that claimed six lives and injured dozens of others.

On Saturday afternoon, Pierre Izard, the SNCF railway's general manager responsible for infrastructure, told reporters that investigators had found that a joint had moved from its normal position, which may have caused the train wreck. However, officials also found that another train had traveled through the station without incident just before the wreck, and a further investigation would be carried out to determine why the joint may have malfunctioned when it did.

mkg/pfd (AFP, AP)