Millions across France join 'unprecedented' rallies against terrorism


Dozens of world leaders joined some 1.5 million people for a unity march in the French capital on Sunday while the interior ministry said that 3.7 million rallied across France in solidarity with the victims of last week's terror attacks.


More than 50 world leaders and top envoys joined an estimated 1.5 million people in the French capital in a massive display of solidarity after a three-day terror spree killed 17 people and left three gunmen dead.

Among the demonstrators at the Paris rally were families of the victims of the attacks, including the 12 killed in Wednesday’s shooting at French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and four people slain at a kosher supermarket in the Vincennes neighbourhood of Paris.

Sunday’s unprecedented display of unity and solidarity had turned Paris into “the capital of the world,” said French President François Hollande as he hosted dozens of dignitaries.

World leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas joined dozens of other heads of state and government on rue Voltaire, named after the famed Enlightenment-era philosopher and satirist who symbolises France's attachment to freedom of expression, just off Place de la République where the rally began.

On a bright, chilly Sunday afternoon, European leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and others joined Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Jordan’s King Abdullah as they linked arms and marched down rue Voltaire. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov put aside their differences for a demonstration against extremism.

Security was tight across Paris with around 2,000 police officers and 1,350 soldiers, including elite marksmen on rooftops, deployed along the route of the march to protect participants.

Just two days after French security officials ended two nail-biting sieges in Dammartin-en-Goële, a town northeast of Paris, and another in Vincennes in the east of the capital, teams of gendarmes were greeted with cheers along the route of the rally.

Massive rallies also took place in several other French cities and towns. Around 3.7 million people marched across France, according to the Interior Ministry, including roughly 1.6 million in Paris, making it the largest demonstration in French history.

‘We are all Charlie’

Chanting “We are all Charlie,” and “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Secularism,” in a twist to the French national motto, demonstrators waved flags, signs and pencils in honour of the slain Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and as a symbol of freedom of expression.

The crowd brandished banners saying: "I'm French and I'm not scared", "Make fun, not war" and "Ink should flow, not blood".

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

"I am proud to see so many people together,” said Sophie Allemand, 44, holding up a sign emblazoned with a portrait of Voltaire. "It's wonderful that all these heads of state are present. This proves that our struggle for freedom of expression and against barbarism is universal.”

Marching along with her two children, Marine Pouvreau-Brown said the tragic events of came as a shock to France and "a shock to the entire world".

In pictures: A day of mourning and unity in Paris

French officials announced "exceptional measures" to protect the crowds marching from Place de la République in central Paris to Place de la Nation further east. The march was split into two routes for security purposes and there were no notable incidents throughout the day, according to the police.

Hollande joins Netanyahu for synagogue service

As dusk fell and crowds continued to throng Place de la Nation, Hollande joined Netanyahu at the Grand Synagogue in Paris for a memorial service for the four killed at the kosher grocery store on Friday.

All four will be buried in Israel on Tuesday.

Details of the attack continued to emerge, with the posting of online video purporting to show kosher store gunman Amedy Coulibaly pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group.

The Charlie Hebdo gunmen, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, had claimed they were acting on behalf of al Qaeda’s Yemen branch, AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula).

All three of the gunmen in the attacks had a history of extremism and were known previously to French intelligence.

Investigators have been trying to hunt down Coulibaly's partner, 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene, but a security source in Turkey told AFP she arrived there on January 2, before the attacks, and has probably travelled on to Syria.

Valls admits 'clear failings'

The attacks have raised mounting questions about how the gunmen could have slipped through the net of the intelligence services.

Coulibaly's mother and sisters condemned his actions.

"We absolutely do not share these extreme ideas. We hope there will not be any confusion between these odious acts and the Muslim religion," they said.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls admitted there had been "clear failings" in intelligence after it emerged that the brothers had been on a US terror watch list "for years".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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