One year on, Paris marks million-strong Charlie Hebdo rally

Thomas Samson, AFP | Crowds gathered at Paris's symbolic Place de la République on January 10, 2016 to remember the victims of last year's terror attacks

Crowds gathered in Paris Sunday to remember the victims of a year of terror attacks, one year after 1.6 million people took to the streets of the French capital after the deadly attacks on the Charlie Hebdo weekly and a Jewish supermarket.


Sunday’s gathering felt muted and solemn in stark contrast to the emotionally charged atmosphere of the march a year ago. The overcast sky, heavy police presence, and the relatively small turnout lent the event an institutional feel.

The crisply choreographed ceremony lasted under half an hour and neither President François Hollande nor Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo spoke at the ceremony.

Hollande and Hidalgo unveiled a plaque to commemorate the victims of a series of jihadist attacks in France last year. Months after the first attacks in January, coordinated shootings and suicide bombings on November 13 killed 130 people in attacks claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group. The plaque was placed at the foot of an oak tree planted in a cold and grey Place de la République.

"To the victims of the terrorist attacks in January and November ... In this place, the people of France pay their respect," read the plaque.

The French army choir sang late Belgian singer Jacques Brel's "Les Prenoms de Paris" (the First Names of Paris), while two young actors read a speech by 19th century writer Victor Hugo.

Johnny Hallyday, the popular 72-year-old French crooner, performed a song by Jeanne Cherhal called “Un dimanche de janvier” (“A Sunday in January”), which describes the outpouring of solidarity which brought out the biggest crowds in Paris since the liberation from Nazi Germany in 1944.

Ironically, Hallyday was often the subject of cartoons drawn by Cabu, one of the best-known of Charlie Hebdo's staff and who was killed in the attack. Cabu often mocked Hallyday's closeness to the political elite and his colourful love life.

Laurence, who had travelled two and a half hours by train to the French capital for the ceremony told FRANCE 24 that Hallyday was perhaps, “not the most appropriate choice”.

‘This was a sombre ceremony of commemoration’

Heavy police presence

To get to the square itself mourners had to make their way through two checkpoints which were controlled by Paris’s heavily-armed riot police. As a result of the tight security, many resorted to watching the ceremony on a giant screen.

Christophe, a Parisian with a French flag draped over his shoulders for the ceremony, told FRANCE 24 that he has been coming to Place de la République at least once a week since the November 13 terrorist attacks to pay his respects.

“It’s my nationality, that’s all,” he said, pointing to the French flag on his back. “I have nothing against any religion, except against radicalism.”

The day of remembrance also drew international visitors. Simon and Sally, a young couple from Denmark, were visiting Paris for the weekend and came to observe the ceremony. Giovanni, a retired teacher from Venice, came because he knew the parent’s of a young woman killed at the Bataclan concert hall in November.

"Paris is scarred, but we are still standing," Paris Mayor Hidalgo told French television after the ceremony.

Hidalgo also invited Parisians to come to the square with candles from 1700 Paris time (1600 GMT) and said the Marianne statue - covered with flowers, candles and pictures of the victims - will be permanently lit from now on.

Hollande, who stood stony-faced through the ceremony, met with the families of the victims after the official commemoration.

In pictures: France remembers victims of 2015 terror attacks in Paris


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