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Page last updated at 16:07 GMT, Thursday, 14 July 2005 17:07 UK

French malaise mars Bastille Day

By Caroline Wyatt
BBC correspondent in Paris

Jacques Chirac
Jacques Chirac is not looking to the UK for ideas
French jets soared through the cloudless skies over Paris, trailing the French colours as President Jacques Chirac took centre stage at the traditional military parade down the Champs Elysees.

It is usually a day of national celebration.

But despite the sunshine, the mood here in France is glum. Even as he smiled and waved to the crowds gathered to watch the parade, Mr Chirac looked like a president under pressure.

The 72-year-old is deeply unpopular here and he is seen by many as part of an ageing elite, no longer able to offer France the renewal it so badly needs.

Two-thirds of the French people say they have no confidence in him as unemployment continues to rise and the economy stagnates.

And the London bombings cast their dark shadow here, too.

France is no stranger to terrorist attacks. Security was tight throughout the day, with 5,000 French police deployed to guard the military march-past.

Then, at the Elysee Palace at 1300 local time, President Chirac and his government joined in the two minute silence for the victims of the London bombings.

French model

In a televised interview from his palace gardens, Mr Chirac expressed France's solidarity with Britain, and his respect and admiration for the calm of the British people in the face of terror.

Jets over Paris
It seems that for many there is not a lot to celebrate, despite the sunshine forecast for the holiday weekend

The French leader said no country was safe from terrorism, because terrorists had a "different mentality".

France has stepped up security on its borders, with police and customs officials given the power to make random checks on travellers' passports and documents.

Later in his interview, Mr Chirac focused on France's economic woes, fiercely defending the French social model.

He was asked if France could learn something from Britain's management of the economy, with the British unemployment rate half that of France's 10%.

No, he replied, insisting that the British model was not the answer to France's problems. He said his country did not need to "envy or copy" Britain, pointing out that France still spent more on education and research than its neighbour.

Mr Chirac also said that on healthcare and the fight against poverty, France remained ahead of Britain.

He also denied having criticised British food ahead of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decision on the 2012 Olympic Games - remarks which some believe may have helped cost Paris the Games.

Asked whether the French rejection of the European constitution in May had been a severe personal defeat, Mr Chirac said he had not felt personally humiliated, but that he understood his people's concerns about globalisation and competition from abroad.

Happy holiday?

It is unlikely that this lengthy interview will restore French confidence in Mr Chirac's leadership.

Even amid the pomp and ceremony of Bastille Day, Mr Chirac has presided for 10 years over a nation that now feels increasingly insecure: unsure of its place in the world, fearful of globalisation and worried about harsh competition from outside, whether from India, China or eastern Europe.

Losing the 2012 Olympic Games to London was the final straw, with the Paris mayor still insisting that Britain cheated by allowing Prime Minister Tony Blair to lobby the IOC.

As much of France now takes the next few days off, it seems that for many there is not a lot to celebrate, despite the sunshine forecast for the holiday weekend.

SEE ALSO
Chirac warning for Bastille Day
14 Jul 05 |  Europe
In pictures: Bastille Day
14 Jul 05 |  In Pictures
France restores border controls
13 Jul 05 |  Europe

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