NEW DELHI — French President Nicolas Sarkozy was guest of honour at India's Republic Day parade as New Delhi showcased its latest military hardware including nuclear-capable missiles.
Soldiers marched down the central avenue of the British Raj-built capital to the sound of military bagpipes as Sarkozy, Premier Manmohan Singh and India's first woman president, Pratibha Patil, gazed on from behind bullet-proof glass.
Tight security surrounded the annual parade, which highlights India's might, technological prowess and cultural diversity and marks its proclamation as a republic in 1950 -- three years after it won independence from British rule.
Singh held wide-ranging late night talks Friday with Sarkozy to shore up strategic ties between India and France.
The two nations signed a pact on nuclear power cooperation to go into effect as soon as New Delhi is allowed to enter the global civilian atomic energy market. They have also pledged to boost military ties.
Patil, 72, in a speech ahead of the celebrations, highlighted India's new-found economic muscle on the back of a blistering nine-percent growth rate, and sought closer ties with the international community.
"The impressive strides of the Indian economy have resulted in the emergence of India as a powerful player in the global economy," president said.
"India is committed to establish(ing) ties of friendship and cooperation with all countries, and India's engagement with the world is intensifying both in the economic and political fields," she said.
Patil also said New Delhi would not tolerate armed insurgencies on its soil.
"The continuing terrorist attacks are reminders of the need to take collective action," she said as troops manned sandbagged posts on New Delhi intersections for the annual military extravaganza.
India is battling insurgencies in Himalayan Kashmir, where Islamic separatists are fighting New Delhi's rule, and in the far-flung northeast, where a host of militant groups are fighting for independence.
Sarkozy, who jetted into New Delhi Friday without glamorous model-turned-singer girlfriend Carla Bruni, smiled with evident enjoyment as he watched the colourful parade in bright winter sunshine.
India rolled out its military hardware -- most of it Russian in origin as Moscow is still India's biggest military supplier -- followed by marching bands.
The parade for the first time displayed its Israeli-made artillery. Israel in 2005 became India's number two arms supplier, pushing France into the third place in sales.
India, which has fought three wars with Pakistan and one with China since 1947, is the biggest arms buyer among emerging nations amid estimates it could spend up to 50 billion dollars between now and 2018 to upgrade its 1.23-million strong military.
Dancers and tableaux in the parade portrayed the struggle for independence by India which marked last August the 60th anniversary of freedom from colonial rule.
Some 17,000 paramilitary troops including elite "Black Cat" commandos backed by New Delhi's 55,000-member police force were deployed to prevent possible attacks in the capital.
New Delhi was "turned into a no-fly zone for the parade and we have deployed anti-aircraft guns and (armed) helicopters," senior police officer Qamar Ahmed said.
In Kashmir, combat troops were out on the streets in strength in the two largest cities -- Srinagar and Jammu-- where parades were also slated.
The Indian government posthumously awarded Everest conqueror Edmund Hillary one of its highest civilian awards at the event.
Other top honour recipients included the head of the Nobel prize-winning climate change Rajendra Pachauri and cricketer Sachin Tendulkar.