President Bush, buoyed by his landmark visit to Eastern Europe, joined dozens of world leaders today for a spectacular Parisian party celebrating the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.
Bush helped kick off the festivities by presenting to France the historic key to the Bastille fortress, birthplace of a rebellion against the French crown two centuries ago. The key, in U.S. hands since 1790, is on temporary loan.
Bush was greeted by French President Francois Mitterrand at the inaugural bicentennial event at the Place du Trocadero commemorating the Declaration of the Rights of Man. That statement, issued in August, 1789, set forth the French Revolution's aims of liberty, fraternity and equality for all people.
The world leaders sat on a blue-and-white grandstand listening to a young man and woman who took turns reading the 17 articles of the declaration. A children's choir dressed in white sang a "song of joy," played games and threw peace laurels, flowers and children's toys on the esplanade.
At the end of the ceremony, the leaders burst into applause as a flock of doves flew over the palace. Then, chatting amiably, they left for a lunch given by Mitterrand, who sat next to Bush during the ceremony.
Security was tight with an estimated 30,000 police, including rooftop marksmen, guarding the summit events. Police also towed away about 1,000 vehicles as part of their ban on traffic in the main thoroughfares.
In Paris, Mitterrand greeted each leader arriving by limousine at the ceremony site near the Eiffel Tower. The crowd in the street cheered when Philippines President Corazon Aquino appeared. Other guests included Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and other African leaders, U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, Brazilian President Jose Sarney, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Uruguayan President Julio Maria Sanguinetti.
Later in the day, after a private 40-minute meeting with Mitterrand, Bush took part in ceremonies marking the return--actually a brief loan--of the key to the Bastille, the site where the French Revolution began when the fortress was stormed in an uprising against the crown on July 14, 1789.
Bush presented the large iron Bastille key to Mitterrand for display through July 22 at the new Bastille Opera house, adjacent to the site of the famous fortress.
The key was given to George Washington nearly 200 years ago by the Marquis de Lafayette. Since 1797, the key has never left Washington's estate in northern Virginia. Since 1858, the historic artifact has been in the possession of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Assn., the private, nonprofit organization that owns and operates Washington's home.