Paris welcomes world leaders for mass unity rally under high security
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The French capital is gearing up for the security challenge posed by a giant rally that starts Sunday at 3 p.m. in honour of victims killed during a three-day spree of violence that shook the country.
The rally is a huge security challenge for a nation on alert for more violence, after 17 people and three gunmen were killed over three days of separate attacks that targeted a satirical newspaper, a kosher supermarket and police.
Paris expects up to a million participants at Sunday’s unity rally after an estimated 700,000 people marched Saturday in cities across France to honour the victims. More than 2,000 police are being deployed, in addition to thousands already guarding synagogues, mosques, schools and other sites around France.
"What is usually done for a large rally will be doubled, even tripled, given the threat and the personalities present," a police source said without providing further details, with deployment plans expected to be finalised on Saturday night.
A police source said authorities would have to be particularly alert to the possibility of someone seeking to drive into the march, embedding themselves within it or taking up a position on nearby rooftops or balconies.
French President François Hollande as well as the leaders of Britain, Germany, NATO and the Arab League are among dozens of world dignitaries expected to attend as are French politicians from across the spectrum, and Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders.
The king and queen of Jordan and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are also among those set to take part. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also confirmed he would attend the rally, as did Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.
The rally “must show the power, the dignity of the French people who will be shouting out of love of freedom and tolerance,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Saturday.
“Journalists were killed because they defended freedom. Policemen were killed because they were protecting you. Jews were killed because they were Jewish,” he said. “The indignation must be absolute and total not for three days only, but permanently.”
However, some experts have questioned if it is a good idea to hold the rally, considering the possibility of more attacks.
“Considering the context and knowing that it is possible that not all the suspects have been identified, the decision to carry on with this rally is perplexing. It would perhaps have been wiser to wait for several days,” said a member of the anti-terrorist unit at Paris’ Palais de Justice to French newspaper Le Figaro.