Thousands gather in Florence and Paris to show support for Ukraine

Thousands of people gathered in the Italian city of Florence on Saturday to show their support for Ukraine following Russia's invasion, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appearing via videolink.

People watch a giant screen (not in picture) displaying an image of Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky speaking through a video link in Florence. 
People watch a giant screen (not in picture) displaying an image of Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky speaking through a video link, addressing people taking part in a peace rally for Ukraine on March 12th, 2022 in Florence. Carlo BRESSAN / AFP

The square outside the Santa Croce basilica became a sea of rainbow peace flags peppered with blue and yellow, the colours of Ukraine’s national flag.

In an address shown on a big screen, Zelensky told the crowd his country was under bombardment “24 hours a day”, targeting schools, hospitals and residential areas, “even churches, even squares like yours”.

According to an Italian translation, he said 79 children had been killed in the conflict so far, saying Europe must “not forget”.

A Ukrainian woman takes part in a peace rally for Ukraine on March 12th, 2022 in Florence. Similar rallies took place simultaneously in several European cities to demand a ceasefire in Ukraine and an end to the war. (Photo by Carlo BRESSAN / AFP)

The demonstration was organised by Florence mayor Dario Nardella, also president of the Eurocities network of more than 200 cities across 38 countries.

In France, meanwhile, nearly 10,000 people demonstrated in cities across France to show their support for the people of Ukraine.

Protesters deploy a giant Ukrainian national flag and hold placards during a support demonstration in Paris on March 12th, 2022. (Photo by Alain JOCARD / AFP)

Around a thousand gathered in Paris to denounce the Russian invasion, many carrying blue and yellow badges, the colours of the Ukrainian flag. Some carried placards calling for a boycott of Russian oil and gas.

Last weekend, more than 40,000 people turned out across France, including 16,000 in Paris.

Across France, people also came out in force to call for more attention to the climate crisis in the run-up to presidential polls next month.

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France ‘strongly condemns’ Russia’s expulsion of its diplomats

France "strongly condemns" the expulsion of 34 of its diplomats by Russia, the foreign ministry said Wednesday, a tit-for-tat move by Moscow after Paris ordered some Russian staff to leave.

France 'strongly condemns' Russia's expulsion of its diplomats

Saying the step had “no legitimate basis”, the ministry said in a statementthat “the work of the diplomats and staff at (France’s) embassy in Russia… takes place fully within the framework of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic and consular relations” — whereas Paris expelled the Russian staff in April on suspicion of being spies.

Moscow said Wednesday it was expelling 34 “employees of French diplomatic missions” in a tit-for-tat move following the
expulsion of Russian diplomats from France as part of joint European action over Russia’s campaign in Ukraine.

“Thirty four employees of French diplomatic missions in Russia have been declared persona non grata,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that they have two weeks to leave the country.

Moscow made the announcement after summoning France’s ambassador to Russia, Pierre Levy, and telling him that the expulsion of 41 employees of Russian diplomatic missions was a “provocative and unfounded decision”, the statement

“It has been stressed that this step causes serious damage to Russian-French relations and constructive bilateral cooperation,” the foreign ministry said.

French President Emmanuel Macron initially led diplomatic outreach to the Kremlin over Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine but his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin have eventually tapered off and overt French military
support to Ukraine has increased in recent months.