Millions defy terror in Paris unity march, World leaders join in
In an unprecedented show of unity, the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority will both be among those attending the rally to honour 17 victims of three days of bloodshed that included Jews and a Muslim police officer among the dead.
Under clear blue skies, emotions were already running high in the shell-shocked City of Light, with many people from all walks of life already in tears as they began to come together under the banner of freedom of speech and liberty. Lassina Traore, a 34-year-old French-born Muslim from the Ivory Coast, gently placed 17 candles at the foot of the iconic monument of the Place de la Republique, heaped with tributes to the dead. The families of those who died in the three blood-soaked days that shook France to its core rubbed shoulders with royalty and heads of state within an iron ring of security.
Defences were beefed up in a jittery Paris still reeling from the Islamist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket, with thousands of extra troops and police deployed to guard the march and snipers positioned along the route. “I have no doubt that millions of citizens will come to express their love of liberty, their love of fraternity,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told a poignant rally on Saturday near where a gunman killed four hostages at the supermarket. In a foretaste of the demonstration, more than 700,000 people poured onto the streets of cities across France on Saturday, many carrying banners reading “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie), the tribute to Charlie Hebdo that has been the global rallying point in the wake of the slaughter. Many brandished pens to symbolize freedom of expression after the magazine was targeted for its cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad.
Along with Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, the king and queen of Jordan were present and a host of top European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British PM David Cameron.
US President Barack Obama was represented by Attorney General Eric Holder, who also took part in an emergency meeting of interior ministers to discuss the threats posed by Islamic extremism.
Speaking on a visit to India, US secretary of state John Kerry said: “We stand together this morning with the people of France. We stand together not just in anger and outrage but in solidarity and commitment in confronting extremists.”
President Francois Hollande, who led the tributes to the victims, has warned his grieving country not to drop its guard in the face of possible new attacks. Hollande met representatives from the Jewish community ahead of the march and its head said authorities had agreed to protect Jewish schools and synagogues with the army “if necessary”. The rampage by three gunmen, who claimed to be members of the al-Qaida and Islamic State extremist groups, was followed by a chilling new threat from the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
German newspaper Bild said the bloodshed in France could signal the start of a wave of attacks in Europe, citing communications by Islamic State leaders intercepted by US intelligence. The attacks were France’s bloodiest for more than half a century, with questions mounting about how the gunmen could have slipped through the net of intelligence services.
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