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A defiant France rises up like never before

The Local/AFP · 11 Jan 2015, 19:56

Published: 11 Jan 2015 19:50 GMT+01:00
Updated: 11 Jan 2015 19:56 GMT+01:00

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More than one and half million people flooded the streets of Paris and cities across France on Sunday to demonstrate their resilience in the face of terrorism in a series of rallies said to be the biggest in the country's history .

The march in the capital was led by dozens of world leaders walking arm in arm as cries of "Freedom" and "Charlie" rang out across the country.

President Francois Hollande linked arms with world leaders, including the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian president, in an historic display of unity.

Although many, at least on Twitter pointed out the irony of the presence of many world leaders, from countries with shady human rights records, at a march to defend freedom of speech.

But while the presence of the heads of state was unprecedented Sunday's march was more about the people of France, taking to the streets in their droves to show they will not be cowed by terrorism.


A sea of humanity flowed through Paris' iconic streets to mourn the victims of the three days of terror that began with the slaughter of 12 people at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

"Freedom! Freedom", "Charlie! Charlie!" chanted the vast crowd, in honour of the cartoonists and journalists killed at Charlie Hebdo over its lampooning of the Prophet Mohammed.

The French national anthem was sung over an over again as the crowds united in defiance after a series of attacks their president said "had hit at the heart of the country".

The crowd was also marking the death of four Jews killed when an Islamist gunman stormed a kosher supermarket and a policewoman gunned down in cold blood.

There were also placards reading "I am Jewish" as mourners also pledged support for the Jewish community, which is once again feeling fearful after another deadly anti-Semitic attack.

One Jewish marcher Joseph Spitezki told The Local France: "Two years ago it was a Jewish school. This time a Jewish supermarket. People are afraid. Can we still be Jewish in France. Or In Europe?

"At this march I feel safe. Bit what will happen tomorrow," he said.

'I'm French, I'm not scared'

Emotions ran high in the grieving City of Light, with many of those marching bursting into tears as they came together under the banner of freedom of speech and liberty after France's worst terrorist bloodbath in more than half a century.

The crowd brandished banners saying: "I'm French and I'm not scared" and, in tribute to the murdered cartoonists, "Make fun, not war" and "Ink should flow, not blood."

The interior ministry said turnout for the Paris rally was "unprecedented" while French television said rallies across the nation were unseen since the 1944 Liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation.

Isabelle Dahmani, a French Christian married to a Muslim, Mohamed, brought their three young children to show them there is nothing to fear.

Their nine-year-old daughter burst into tears watching the news this week, Isabelle said, adding she had asked if "the bad men are coming to our house?"

One of the most unexpected scenes of the day, was when a crowd burst into spontaneous applause for passing gendarmes, shouting "Thank You" -- in a country where riot police are notoriously unpopular.

'I've never seen that before at a protest in France," one marcher told The Local.

The grieving families of those who died in the shootings led the march, alongside the representatives of around 50 countries.

Emotional embrace

Patrick Pelloux, a Charlie Hebdo columnist, fell sobbing into the arms of Hollande in an emotional embrace.

With dozens of world leaders present, security in the jittery French capital was beefed up, with police snipers stationed on rooftops and plain-clothes officers among the crowd in a city still reeling from the Islamist attacks.

"Today, Paris is the capital of the world," Hollande said. "The entire country will rise up."

Many of those who rose up were youngsters probably taking part in their first demonstration.

Story continues below…

Claire Lemaire, a 14-year-old school pupil told The Local: "There's never been such a big gathering in France before. It's good to know there's a cause to defend and to share. This will be an important day in the history of France."

Foreigners show support for France

It wasn't just the French on the streets of Paris today. Throughout the immense crowd, all sorts of languages are heard, from English to Spanish, Turkish to Arabic.

"No one messes with my France! France is the city of light," says Brazilian Marie Badas in the midst of the giant crowds marching through Paris on Sunday in the wake of this week's terror attacks.

"I learned to read by reading Charlie Hebdo," said the 56-year-old, who has lived in France for 40 years.

More than a million also rallied in cities outside the capital and marches were held in several cities across Europe, including Berlin, Brussels and Madrid.

The Local/AFP (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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