Hero gendarme symbolises 'French spirit of resistance', says Macron
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France held a national ceremony on Wednesday to honour Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, the gendarme who died after swapping himself for a hostage during a terrorist attack in the southwestern town of Trèbes on March 23.
French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to the heroic policeman who died after trading himself and trying to negotiate with the hostage-taker, saying he symbolised the "French spirit of resistance".
Addressing mourners at a solemn ceremony at Les Invalides in Paris, Macron compared Arnaud Beltrame's sacrifice to those made by France's World War II heroes and said his example would "remain etched in French hearts".
Tributes began on Wednesday with a minute’s silence in gendarme barracks across France before Beltrame’s Tricolor-draped coffin was carried into the cobbled courtyard of Les Invalides, a former military hospital and the final resting place of Napoleon, where Macron solemnly addressed the nation.
“To accept to die so the innocent can live: That is the essence of what it means to be a soldier,” he said. “Others, even many who are brave, would have wavered or hesitated.”
After speaking, Macron posthumously awarded Beltrame the Legion of Honour, France’s highest order of merit.
Beltrame was the fourth victim of the rampage last Friday in the southwestern towns of Carcassonne and nearby Trèbes.
The gendarme had taken the place of a woman held as a final hostage in a supermarket by 25-year-old gunman Radouane Lakdim, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
Beltrame planned to negotiate with the terrorist once the terrified shoppers and supermarket staff were out of the way.
But Lakdim shot Beltrame and slit his throat, leading police to launch a raid on the supermarket, shooting the attacker dead. Beltrame died of his wounds on Saturday morning.
Beltrame has since been hailed as a national hero, with family members saying it was typical of him to put others first.
"You behaved in your last moments just as you behaved throughout your whole life: as a patriot, as a good man, as a man with a big heart," his brother Damien wrote on Facebook.
Macron's government has meanwhile come under criticism from right-wing opponents who allege that the attack could have been prevented.
Lakdim, who had previous convictions for drug use and handling a banned weapon, had been on a list of suspected extremists since 2014 and was being monitored.
A police source told AFP that Lakdim had been summoned by anti-terror police for questioning earlier this month.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen accused the government of exploiting the grief over Beltrame to "escape from its own incompetence and cowardice" in failing to tackle Islamic extremism.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe hit back at the criticism on Tuesday.
"Those who say ignorantly that this attack could have been avoided, those who promise people zero risk I say to them, these people bear a heavy responsibility in speaking so casually," Philippe told parliament.
He rejected right-wing proposals to impose an outright ban on ultraconservative Salafist Islam or "preemptively" detain the most radicalised Islamists.
France already has "a legal arsenal" to "understand, monitor and sanction" extremists, Philippe said.
France has lost more than 240 lives to jihadists over the past three years, and the attack is the country's worst since Macron became president last May.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)