World leaders march with 3.7 million in France to honour attack victims

Turkey’s participation at the unity rally in Paris will give a strong message to groups that want to blame the recent attacks in France on the Islamic world, Turkish prime minister said

World leaders march with 3.7 million in France to honour attack victims

World Bulletin/News Desk

Dozens of world leaders including Muslim and Jewish statesmen linked arms leading hundreds of thousands of French citizens in an unprecedented march under high security to pay tribute to victims of attacks.

At least 3.7 million people took part in silent marches throughout the country, the biggest public demonstration ever registered in France. A total of 1.2 million to 1.6 million marched in Paris and a further 2.5 million in other cities, the Interior Ministry said.

Some commentators said the last street presence in the capital on this scale was at the Liberation of Paris from Nazi Germany in 1944.

President Francois Hollande and leaders from Germany, Italy, Israel, Turkey, Britain and Palestine among others, moved off from the central Place de la Republique ahead of a sea of French and other flags. Giant letters attached to a statue in the square spelt out the word Pourquoi?" (Why?) and small groups sang the "La Marseillaise" national anthem.

Some 2,200 police and soldiers patrolled Paris streets to protect marchers from would-be attackers, with police snipers on rooftops and plain-clothes detectives mingling with the crowd. City sewers were searched ahead of the vigil and underground train stations around the march route are due to be closed down.

The silent march - which may prove the largest seen in modern times through Paris - reflects shock over the worst on a European city in nine years. For France, it raised questions of free speech, religion and security, and beyond French frontiers it exposed the vulnerability of states to urban attacks.

"Paris is today the capital of the world. Our entire country will rise up and show its best side," said Hollande in a statement.

Seventeen people, including journalists and police, were killed in three days of violence that began with a shooting attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday and ended with a hostage-taking at a Jewish deli in which four hostages were killed.

A video emerged featuring a man resembling the gunman killed in the kosher deli. He pledged allegiance to the ISIL and urged French Muslims to follow his example. A French anti-terrorist police source confirmed it was the killer, Amedy Coulibaly, speaking before the action.

"We're not going to let a little gang of hoodlums run our lives," said Fanny Appelbaum, 75, who said she lost two sisters and a brother in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. "Today, we are all one."

Zakaria Moumni, a 34-year-old Franco-Moroccan draped in the French flag, agreed: "I am here to show the terrorists they have not won - it is bringing people together of all religions."

Among many children brought along to the march, Loris Peres, 12, said: "For me this is paying respect to your loved ones, it's like family ... We did a lesson about this at school."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italy Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu were among 44 foreign leaders marching with Hollande. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu - who earlier encouraged French Jews to emigrate to Israel - and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were also present.

Addressing a press conference before he left for France to join the rally, Ahmet Davutoglu said "our participation in the Paris march is a strong message for groups that want to blame the Islamic world, especially Muslims who live in Europe."

He said Turkey was against all kinds of terrorist attacks and highlighted the fact that Turkish security officials were willing to cooperate with other states to deal with terrorism threats.    

"Our intelligence and security agencies are willing to cooperate. Turkey has always displayed its eagerness to cooperate with other states to deal with risks of terrorist attacks. Our close cooperation with other countries will continue on this issue," he said.

The premier added that Turkey’s participation would “give a strong message to those who may want to launch a campaign against Muslims by exploiting the Paris attack."

"(The march) will be an unprecedented demonstration that will be go down in the history books," Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.

A 1995 protest against planned welfare cuts brought some 500,000-800,000 people onto the streets of the capital, while a 2002 rally against the far-right National Front's then leader Jean-Marie Le Pen afer he got into the run-off of that year's presidential election drew 400,000-600,000.

Twelve people were killed in Wednesday's initial attack on Charlie Hebdo, a journal know for satirising religions and politicians. All three gunmen were killed in what local commentators have called "France's 9/11", a reference to the September 2001 attacks on U.S. targets by al Qaeda.

While there has been widespread solidarity with the victims, there have been dissenting voices. French social media have carried comments from those uneasy with the "Je suis Charlie" slogan interpreted as freedom of expression at all cost. Others suggest there was hypocrisy in world leaders whose countries have repressive laws attending the march.

Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, whom analysts see receiving a boost in the polls due to the attacks, said her anti-immigrant party had been excluded from the Paris demonstration and would instead take part in regional marches.

In Germany, a rally against racism and xenophobia on Saturday drew tens of thousands of people in the eastern German city of Dresden, which has become the centre of anti-immigration protests organised by a new grassroots movement called PEGIDA.

Turkish and French sources said a woman hunted by French police as a suspect in the attacks had left France several days before the killings and is believed to be in Syria.

French police had launched in an intensive search for Hayat Boumeddiene, the 26-year-old partner of one of the attackers, describing her as "armed and dangerous".

But a source familiar with the situation said Boumeddiene left France last week and travelled to Syria via Turkey. A senior Turkish official corroborated that account, saying she passed through Istanbul on Jan. 2.

 

Last Mod: 11 Ocak 2015, 23:37
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