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The unity march to help heal a wounded France

Ben McPartland · 11 Jan 2015, 09:36

Published: 11 Jan 2015 09:36 GMT+01:00

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Hollande will be there, so too Merkel, and Cameron and Renzi and even the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. Isreal's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas will both be there.

Muslim community leaders will be there and so too will those of the Jewish faith.

Trade unions representing the fallen journalists and police officers will be there. Nicolas Sarkozy will be there, government ministers will be there, with anti-racism and human rights groups. Marine Le Pen probably won’t be.

But most importantly around one million French people are expected to be there.

Because on Sunday the French will react to adversity by doing what they do best, in the traditional Gallic way of taking to the streets en masse, just as tens of thousands did in cities across France on Saturday.

Sunday’s march will mark the start of a healing process for a wounded nation, left shattered by three gunmen and their murderous acts. 

Hollande has called on the French to “rise up” against terrorism by taking to the streets and for the people “to bring these values of democracy, freedom, pluralism to which we are all committed and that Europe, in a way, represents."

“We have to show we are not scared,” was the overriding sentiment among Parisians this week, even though many understandably admitted they were indeed frightened.

The reality is, France and particularly its capital is jittery and its citizens are indeed scared after three days of bloodshed that has left the nation with scars that won’t be easily healed.

A 22-year-old student, Kevin, said that while he will be busy working on Sunday, he wouldn't attend the march anyway. 
"I think there is a risk - we have no idea what could happen," he told The Local. "Many people think the attacks could continue. Anything could happen with so many people gathered in the one place."
The government have realised that many members of the public may simply be too shaken to attend a mass rally with the images of the gun-toting Kouachi brothers still fresh in their minds.

Up to 5,500 police and military personnel will be deployed for this "exceptional situation".

Ministers and police chiefs have tried to reassure them that “all necessary measures” will be taken to ensure “total security” around the rally.

Sometimes politicians can fall victim to hyperbole at such time, but when Hollande said the attacks “had struck at the heart of France”, he wasn’t exaggerating.

The murder of a team of journalists from a popular national magazine, a Muslim police officer as well as two other officers and four hostages at a Jewish supermarket, meant that no one in the multicultural country was left untouched by the barbaric shootings.

The march will be unlike any of the other mass rallies on the streets of the capital. Anti-racism groups have called for “no banners, no slogans” so “people can reaffirm their adherence to a Republic, in which everyone can belong to, without distinction.”

People have called for it to be held in silence, but the raw emotion may make that impossible. 

Union activists, who are not strangers to marching through Paris, will this time take to the streets without most of their flags and banners and slogans.

The government are keen for as many people as possible to take part in the demonstration. They are want for the images of a united France to be broadcast around the world, to replace the horrifying photographs of hostages running for their lives or swat teams patrolling the streets.

But some members of the public have been put off by the idea of a march lead by politicians, in contrast to the impromptu public-led vigils across the country this week.

“I do not want to march alongside egoistical politicians, who are already thinking about what they can gain” a man named Anthony told Liberation newspaper. 

Others have been frustrated by the distinct lack of unity shown by the country’s politicians after the far-right National were apparently not invited to attend.

“It’s a mistake, we should unite everyone and not judge people by their political colours,” said French Imam Farid Darrouf, earlier this week.

The march had been planned following the Charlie Hebdo massacre but on Wednesday so the French could march to defend their values like freedom of speech and liberty of the press.

But after two more days of bloodshed and with dignitaries heading to the French capital from around the world, Sunday's mass demo will resonate far beyond France's borders to countries which are also grappling with how to deal with the threat of homegrown terrorism from Islamist extremists.

Story continues below…

But while it may help ease the pain, the country's wounds will take a long time to heal.

Route of the march:

The march is expected to start at 3pm.

Due to the huge numbers of people expected on the march, two separate routes have been laid out to take people from the Place de la Republique to Place de la Nation in the east of the capital.

One route will take marchers down Boulevard Voltaire, and the other via Avenue de la Republique and then either Avenue Phillippe Auguste or Boulevard de la Charonne.

People are expected to also gather in front of Town Halls in cities, towns and villages across the country. 

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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