France says ‘merci’ to virus heroes on poignant Bastille Day

Antelope Valley Press - - SECOND FRONT -

PARIS (AP) — Medics in white coats re­placed uni­formed sol­diers as stars of France’s Bastille Day cer­e­monies Tues­day, as the usual grandiose mil­i­tary pa­rade in Paris was re­cal­i­brated to honor medics who died fight­ing COVID-19, su­per­mar­ket cashiers, postal work­ers and other heroes of the pan­demic.

Yet for thou­sands of par­tic­i­pants in a protest across town, the na­tional homage wasn’t nearly enough to make up for mis­steps by French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron and his gov­ern­ment be­fore and dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic. Riot po­lice sprayed tear gas and un­ruly demon­stra­tors hurled smoke bombs as the largely peace­ful demon­stra­tors marched to Bastille plaza, where the French Rev­o­lu­tion was born on July 14, 1789.

The con­trast­ing scenes marked a Bastille Day like any other, over­shad­owed by fears of resur­gent in­fec­tions in a coun­try where more than 30,000 peo­ple have al­ready lost their lives to the Coro­n­avirus.

With tears in their eyes or smiles on their faces, med­i­cal work­ers stood silently as lengthy ap­plause in their honor rang out over the Place de la Con­corde in cen­tral Paris from Macron, the head of the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion and 2,000 other guests. A mil­i­tary choir sang the Mar­seil­laise na­tional an­them, and troops un­furled an enor­mous French tri­color flag across the plaza.

The bat­tle against the virus was the main fo­cus, as Macron sought to highlight France’s suc­cesses in com­bat­ing its worst cri­sis since World War II. Mi­rage and Rafale fighter jets painted the sky with blue-white-an­dred smoke, and were joined by he­li­copters that had trans­ported COVID-19 pa­tients in dis­tress.

The guests in­cluded nurses, doc­tors, su­per­mar­ket and nurs­ing home work­ers, mask mak­ers, lab tech­ni­cians, un­der­tak­ers and oth­ers who kept France go­ing dur­ing its strict na­tion­wide lock­down. Fam­i­lies of med­i­cal work­ers who died with the virus also had a place in the stands.

Medics in jeans or san­dals strolled onto the plaza for the cli­max of the cer­e­mony, and the lengthy mil­i­tary pa­rade was trun­cated into a smaller af­fair closed to the pub­lic to pre­vent new virus in­fec­tions.

In eastern Paris, mean­while, med­i­cal work­ers’ unions marched to de­cry years of cost cuts that left pub­lic hos­pi­tals ill-pre­pared when the virus raced across France.

“We are enor­mously short

of per­son­nel,” said pro­tester Sylvie Pe­card, a nurse at the Saint-Louis Hos­pi­tal in Paris who de­scribed col­leagues fall­ing ill with the virus as COVID-19 pa­tients filled its wards.

Other protesters chanted slo­gans against po­lice vi­o­lence, spoke out against racial in­jus­tice, or against Macron poli­cies seen as fa­vor­ing the wealthy, or against his de­ci­sion to ap­point a man ac­cused of rape to over­see French po­lice forces. Some protesters wore yel­low vests, rep­re­sent­ing their move­ment against eco­nomic in­jus­tice — or face masks in the same neon yel­low shade.

Riot po­lice closely sur­rounded the crowd, and smoke from tear gas and fire­crack­ers swirled around Bastille Plaza af­ter spo­radic ten­sions.

Demon­stra­tors sang in sup­port of med­i­cal work­ers, while the Bastille Opera house dis­played a huge mes­sage of thanks sur­rounded by por­traits of nurses and doc­tors by street artist JR.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mem­bers of med­i­cal staff pose with the French flag as they take part in the an­nual Bastille Day mil­i­tary cer­e­mony on the Place de la Con­corde in Paris, Tues­day.

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