Security for president Jacques Chirac outnumbered troops marching down the most famous Paris avenue following an attmept on his life the previous year.

Jets flying in tight formation launched the parade, trailing streams of red, white and blue smoke behind them as they zoomed low in the brilliantly sunny sky over the heads of thousands of spectators.

A German general, heading 120 soldiers from the EU's nascent Eurocorps, led the formal flow of 3,840 troops and 350 vehicles down the Champs Elysees from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, where President Chirac and other VIPs were gathered.

 

Nearly 5,000 police kept a close eye on the crowd.

 

The stepped up security comes after an assassination attempt on Chirac at last year's parade in which a far-right militant, Maxime Brunerie, fired a shot at the president.

 

A bystander managed to knock the .22-calibre rifle away at the last moment, sending the bullet wide, and Brunerie was quickly overpowered.

 

Domestic and foreign woes

 

Rubble of a holiday home bombed
by  Corsican separatists  

 

Fears of attacks, by what the French government calls international Islamic militant groups, are also a reason for the extra security.

 

A bomb blast last October that holed a French supertanker off the Yemeni coast, and a bomb attack in Pakistan in May 2002 that killed 11 French naval technicians and three Pakistanis were blamed on al-Qaeda and their sympathisers.

 

Domestically, tensions over the Mediterranean island of Corsica, where separatists have been waging a three-decade campaign to end rule from Paris, have also risen in recent weeks.

 

The island's rejection of a referendum offering greater autonomy, the arrest of Corsica's most notorious separatist, Yvan Colonna after four years on the run, and the conviction on Friday of eight Corsicans accused of helping Colonna murder the island's governor in 1998, have kept France's security services on their toes.

 

Adding to the government's woes is a dispute between the government and workers in the arts industry that has already led to most of the major summer festivals being cancelled.

 

Topping that is the recent arrests of members of an Iranian opposition group, and protests over the imprisonment of

Jose Bove, the rebel farmers' leader and anti-globalisation

activist.

 

Chirac was expected to address at least some of these issues during a customary televised Bastille Day interview later on Monday.

 

July 14 marks the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789, the event that started the French Revolution and led to the toppling of the monarchy and the executions of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette.