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India marks Republic Day with camels and stunt-riders
New Delhi (AFP) Jan 26, 2016

Five facts about India's Republic Day parade
New Delhi (AFP) Jan 26, 2016 - French President Francois Hollande is the chief guest at India's Republic Day parade Tuesday, a spectacular showcase of the nation's military power and cultural diversity to celebrate the adoption of the constitution in 1950.

Here are five facts about India's 67th Republic Day:

Dog squad

-- After a gap of 26 years the Indian army's unsung -- or unbarked -- heroes are returning to the parade. A dog squad drawn from the Army's Remount Veterinary Corps will perform a march past wearing striped coats in their unit's colours of maroon and gold. The Labradors and German Shepherds usually work in the restive northern region of Kashmir detecting explosives and landmines or tracking in avalanches. Reportedly just 36 dogs out of 1,200 were chosen for the big day and underwent weeks of training.

French march

-- For the first time in Republic Day history foreign troops will join the celebrations as soldiers from France's 35th Infantry Regiment, one of the country's oldest active regiments, march alongside their Indian counterparts. It is a reciprocal gesture after Indian troops marched down Paris's Champs d'Elysees on Bastille Day in 2009. But rehearsals haven't gone entirely smoothly. "Indian troopers march a little faster than us. After rigorous practice for over a week, we have tried our best to synchronise," Lieutenant Colonel Paul Bury, who is leading the contingent, told India's Firstpost.


-- Instead of the usual stunt men on two-wheelers -- picked out as a highlight by President Obama during last year's parade -- daring female motorcyclists from the Women Daredevils Central Reserve Police Force and Rapid Action Force will for the first time show off their skills on Royal Enfields in front of the crowds at Rajpath. The white-and-red helmeted daredevils were seen practising their stunts -- which include the human pyramid and lotus formation -- near Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential residence.

Camels return

-- There was a small outcry after various newspapers suggested the camel contingent, usually a mainstay of the parade, may be dropped this year -- but officials later reassured the public that the dromedaries would perform as normal. The camels, used to patrol the Thar Desert near the border with Pakistan, make the journey from Rajasthan every year to participate in the parade, accompanied by moustachioed border guards. They will also be seen by millions online in India in the form of a special Google Doodle showing brightly decked-out camels carrying bandsmen to mark the day.

Drizzle precaution

-- It rained on the Republic Day parade last year, forcing President Obama to take shelter under a large umbrella, in what was said to be an embarrassment for organisers. This year the VVIP enclosure -- Indian shorthand for very, very important people, including Hollande and other dignitaries -- will have a motorised sliding glass roof to keep them dry, according to the Indian Express. But the roof will be rolled back for the Air Force fly past -- which unfurls a vapour trail in the saffron, white and green colours of the national flag -- to give them a clear view of the spectacle.

Thousands gathered in New Delhi amid tight security Tuesday for India's annual Republic Day parade, a pomp-filled spectacle of military might featuring camels and daredevil stunt riders, with French President Francois Hollande the chief guest.

A contingent of French infantry in India for joint military exercises led the march down the capital's central Rajpath avenue, the first time foreign troops have ever taken part in the parade.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Hollande in a show of solidarity with France after Islamist attacks in Paris last November killed 130 -- recalling a 2008 assault on Mumbai that killed 166.

The two leaders agreed in talks Monday to deepen cooperation on counter-terrorism in the wake of the Paris attacks and a deadly siege this month on an Indian air force base near the Pakistan border.

The mood on Tuesday was more celebratory, with Modi -- sporting a gold turban that rivalled the spectacular military headgear on display -- and Hollande chatting as they sat side by side in a bulletproof glass enclosure.

An estimated 10,000 spectators braved thick smog and air quality levels classified as hazardous on the US embassy website to watch the display, the highlight of annual celebrations of the birth of modern India.

Delhi is the world's most polluted capital and levels of PM2.5 -- the tiny particles that can enter the bloodstream -- frequently reach 10 times the World Health Organization's safe limit.

But the skies remained dry, unlike last year when chief guest US President Barack Obama was forced to shelter under an umbrella throughout.

- Human pyramid -

The two-hour showcase of military might and cultural diversity included everything from tanks and state-of-the-art weaponry to camels and traditional dancers.

The mounted camels of the Border Security Force -- an annual highlight -- put in an early showing, decorated in brightly coloured caparisons.

Traditional dancers representing some of India's diverse regional cultures performed on colourfully decorated floats showcasing selected states.

A dog squad drawn from the Army's Remount Veterinary Corps returned to the parade after a gap of 26 years to perform a march past wearing striped coats in their unit's colours.

They were followed by motorbike stunt riders performing a human pyramid, another annual tradition, before the grand finale of the event, a fly-past by Indian fighter jets.

India launched a nationwide security crackdown in the lead-up to the celebrations, which mark the adoption of the country's constitution on January 26, 1950 following independence from Britain in 1947.

Counter-terror police arrested a group of suspected Islamist radicals and seized bomb-making material in a series of nationwide raids last week, and some 50,000 police, army and paramilitary forces were deployed across the capital on Tuesday.

It was the fifth time a French president has been chief guest, the greatest honour India can bestow on a foreign leader.

Hollande was due to leave Delhi later Tuesday at the end of a three-day official visit that began in the northern city of Chandigarh.

His visit had raised hopes of a conclusion to a long-delayed, multi-billion-dollar deal for New Delhi to buy 36 French Rafale jet fighters.

The two sides said they had not yet arrived at an agreement on the price, which experts say could reach around five billion euros ($5.6 billion).

Rafale manufacturer Dassault said after the announcement it was hopeful the price negotiations could be completed within the next four weeks.

India entered exclusive negotiations on buying 126 Rafale fighters in 2012, but the number of planes was scaled back in tortuous negotiations over cost and assembly of the planes in India.

On Monday the two men laid a foundation stone at the new headquarters of the International Solar Alliance, a 121-nation group launched by Modi at the Paris COP21 conference in November to expand affordable solar power.



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