Nice attack: An attack on Bastille Day targets a ‘symbol of liberty’

WATCH: Coverage of the Bastille Day attack in Nice, France.

France is mourning the deaths of at least 84 people killed Thursday night in Nice, as the city and the country marked its national holiday, Bastille Day.

French President Francois Hollande, responding to the horror that unfolded in the French Riviera city, said the country was hit with its a “terror attack” — if confirmed to be a terror attack, it would be the third in just 18 months — on a day that is a “symbol of liberty.”

READ MORE: Nice, France attack kills at least 84, injures 202: ‘Carnage on the road. Bodies everywhere’

“Human rights are denied by fanatics and France is quite clearly their target,” Holland said early Friday morning, hours after a tractor-trailer slammed through a crowd of Bastille Day revelers on Nice’s famed Promenade des Anglais shortly after the fireworks came to an end.

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Hollande was not alone in his sentiment, that the “liberty, equality and fraternity” France values was the target.

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Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, called it a “tragic paradox” that people celebrating those very hallmarks of French identity were in the assailant’s marks.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Bastille Day was a reminder of France’s “extraordinary resilience and democratic values” and a testament to how France will persevere “long after this devastating and tragic loss of life.”

READ MORE: World reacts to Nice attack: ‘Canadians are shocked by tonight’s attack’

What is Bastille Day?

Bastille Day commemorates the day — July 14, 1789 — when Parisians stormed the Bastille Saint Antoine, a prison, in a revolt spurred by food shortages, economic woes, the militarization of Paris and King Louis XVI inability to counter anti-monarchist forces.

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The assault on the prison happened just two days into the French Revolution, but it became one of the key moments in France’s history. Within weeks, feudalism was abolished and the country’s national assembly enacted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

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Although France marked its Fête de la Fédération on July 14 the next year, it wasn’t until about 100 years later that the day became a national holiday and it became known worldwide as Bastille Day.

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