Massive rallies across France in memory of terrorist victims
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An estimated 700,000 took to the streets in cities across France Saturday to hold silent marches in memory of the 17 people who died in several terrorist attacks during one of the most traumatic and emotional weeks for the country in living memory.
According to local officials in the southern city of Nice, 30,000 people marched along the famous Promenade des Anglais on the beachfront, holding placards reading the now familiar message: “Je Suis Charlie”.
“Make the most of this silent march because we are a people who will never stay quiet,” another sign read.
There were similar scenes a few hundred kilometers west in Toulouse, where around 120,000 people took to the streets, according to police figures, in a city of 440,000 residents.
In Pau, in the southwest, some 30,000 people turned out to march – almost half the town’s population of 80,000.
Around 75,000 marched in Nantes in western France behind a banner reading “Living together, free, equal and united”, and in Orleans (population: 113,000), 22,000 took part in another silent vigil.
Demonstrations also took place in Lyon, Marseille, Lille, Lyon and numerous other towns and cities across the country.
In total, around 700,000 people took part in the marches across the country, said Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.
Saturday’s marches were just a small taste of what is to come with a vast demonstration set to be held in the capital Paris on Sunday. More than a million people are expected to attend, including President François Hollande and several other heads of state from around the world.
‘An exceptional moment’
The marches are a chance for French people to come together in both grief and determination following one of the darkest weeks in the country’s recent history that started with the murder of 12 people at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday.
The two gunmen in that attack were killed in a dramatic end to a hostage siege near Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport Friday.
Seconds later, police stormed a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris where a gunman held several people captive. The gunman was killed, but four hostages also lost their lives in the siege.
But though the worst may now be over, fears remained acute and security levels were kept at France's highest level Saturday, the fact that the girlfriend of the gunman killed in the supermarket siege remained at large a cause for particular concern.
Hundreds of extra troops were deployed around Paris, beefing up security on the eve of Sunday’s march.
But those who took to the streets were keen to show they would not be cowed.
“I’m in my ninth month of pregnancy and, being pregnant, it’s even more important to defend our values of liberty, equality and fraternity, said one woman at the march in Nice, 29-year-old Piérine. “I want my child to be born into a better world.”
“I never demonstrate “, added Emmanuell, 48. “It is an important and exceptional moment – to defend certain right and to pay our respects to the French citizens who have died."
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)