Charlie Hebdo attack victims honoured amidst Iranian outrage over new cartoons

French politicians paid tribute Saturday to Charlie Hebdo staff and other victims of the January 2015 Islamist attacks, days after the satirical weekly's latest edition sparked outrage in Iran.

French flag
On Saturday, French politicians honoured the employees of Charlie Hebdo and other victims of the January 2015 attacks. Photo by Rafael Garcin / Unsplash

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted the names of all 17 victims of a spate of attacks eight years ago in and around Paris, including the 12 people killed at the offices of Charlie Hebdo.

“We will never forget you,” he added, with a cartoon by the well-known French cartoonist Plantu below.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne also marked the anniversary of the attacks, which also involved a deadly siege at a kosher supermarket.

“In the face of Islamist terrorism, the Republic remains standing,” she tweeted. “For their families, for our values, for our liberty: we do not forget.”

And Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak tweeted: “Satire, irreverence, the republican tradition of press cartoons are intrinsic to our democracy. We continue to defend them.”

The tributes came days after Tehran reacted furiously to cartoons mocking Iran’s leadership in the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo, which appeared on Wednesday.

The magazine had invited cartoonists to depict Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the context of ongoing demonstrations against his theocratic regime, by women in particular.

The graphic front cover sought to highlight the fight for women’s rights, while others were sexually explicit and insulting towards Khamenei and fellow clerics.

Many cartoons pointed to the authorities’ use of capital punishment as a tactic to quell the protests.

Tehran’s anger

In response, Iran summoned France’s ambassador and called on the government to hold “the authors of such hatred” to account.

On Thursday, it said it was closing the Tehran-based French Institute for Research (IFRI).

“France has no right to insult the sanctities of other Muslim countries and nations under the pretext of freedom of expression,” foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said.

In Paris on Saturday, Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin and the city’s mayor Anne Hidalgo were among the politicians who attended a ceremony at the former offices of Charlie Hebdo, in the city’s 11th arrondissement.

It was there that two gunmen killed staff at the magazine, including some of its best-known cartoonists.

A few metres further down the same street, police lieutenant Ahmed Merabet was gunned down by the killers as he tried to stop their escape.

The gunmen, who claimed to represent Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said they were taking revenge for previous satirical cartoons in the magazine depicting the Prophet Mohammed. They were killed after two days on the run.

The day after the Charlie Hebdo attack, another Islamist gunman killed a police officer in Montrouge, just outside Paris — and a day later he killed four hostages at a jewish supermarket in east Paris.

He was shot dead as police stormed the premises and freed the remaining hostages.

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French Prime Minister Macron doubles down on pension age as strikes loom

France's prime minister on Sunday ruled out backtracking on a plan to raise the retirement age as unions prepared for another day of mass protests against the contested reform.

French Prime Minister Macron doubles down on pension age as strikes loom

An increase in the minimum retirement age to 64 from the current 62 is part of a flagship reform package pushed by President Emmanuel Macron to ensure the future financing of France’s pensions system.

After union protests against the change brought out over a million people into the streets on January 19, the government signalled there was wiggle room on some measures, including the number of contributing years needed to qualify for a full pension, special deals for people who started working very young, and provisions for mothers who interrupted their careers to look after their children.

But the headline age limit of 64 was not up for discussion, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said Sunday.

“This is now non-negotiable,” she told the FranceInfo broadcaster.

While unions have welcomed the government’s readiness for negotiation on parts of the plan, they say the proposed 64-year rule has to go.

Calling the reform “unfair” France’s eight major unions, in a rare show of unity, said they hoped to “mobilise even more massively” on Tuesday, their next scheduled protest day, than at the showing earlier this month.

“Even more people”

“It’s looking like there will be even more people”, said Celine Verzeletti, member of the hardleft union CGT’s confederation leadership.

Pointing to opinion polls, Laurent Berger, head of the moderate CFDT union, said that “the people disagree strongly with the project, and that view is gaining ground”.

It would be “a mistake” for the government to ignore the mobilisation, he warned.

Unions and the government both see Tuesday’s protests as a major test.

Some 200 protests are being organised countrywide, with a big march planned for Paris, culminating in a demonstration outside the National Assembly where parliamentary commissions are to start examining the draft law on Monday.

The leftwing opposition has submitted more than 7,000 amendments to the draft in a bid to slow its path through parliament.

Macron’s allies are short of an absolute majority in parliament and will need votes from conservatives to approve the pensions plan.

The government has the option of forcing the bill through without a vote under special constitutional powers, but at the risk of triggering a vote of no confidence, and possibly new parliamentary elections.

In addition to protest marches, unions have called for widespread strike action for Tuesday, with railway services and public transport expected to be heavily affected.

Stoppages are also expected in schools and administrations, with some local authorities having already announced closures of public spaces such as sports stadiums.

Some unions have called for further strike action in February, including at commercial ports, refineries and power stations.

Some observers said the unions are playing for high stakes, and any slackening of support Tuesday could be fatal for their momentum.

“They have placed the bar high,” said Dominique Andolfatto, a professor for political science. “They can’t afford any missteps.”