It was the first ever for France! An unprecedented flood of people, headed by leaders from Europe and other countries, streamed in Paris to protest indignantly against terrorism and racism after 17 people were killed during three days of attacks in the French capital.
“I’m Charlie”, “We are not afraid”, wrote protesters on banners, waving flags of France and many other countries, who took the capital’s streets in an unprecedented tribute to the shootings’ victims.
According to one of the organisers, about 1.5 million people participated in Sunday’s march in Paris.
With white bandanas on their heads spelt out the names of those killed in the three-day violence, the families of the victims led the huge rally headed off form the Square of the Republique. They were followed by French President Francois Hollande and world leaders.
“This afternoon, Paris will be the world’s capital of the resistance against terrorism and of the defence of freedom. It will be really a world march for freedom,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters.
“There are representatives from all over the world because the cause (of the march) is global,” he added.
Among those who attended the march were German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Matteo Renzi of Italy, Mariano Rajoy of Spain, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas were also in the list of participants.
Arab League representatives and some Muslim Arab and African leaders as well as Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also attended the march.
Represented by his attorney general, US President Barack Obama expressed his country’s support. “I want the people of France to know that the United States stands with you today, stands with you tomorrow,” he said.
Following heavy loss of life over three-day heart-wrenching bloodshed in three separate attacks respectively at the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, at a kosher supermarket and on police, French authorities are trying to prevent a rise in anti-Islam feelings and anti-immigrant sentiment.
“We are in a war against terrorism. We are not in a war against religion, against a civilisation,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.
“What are terrorists looking for? To create fear, to pit the French against each other and we must be stronger than that,” he added.
“Muslims are not extremists. We are Muslims, but we are against this barbarism. That’s why it’s important to be there today to express our indignation,” Adel Ounaies, an employee at a private transport company, told Xinhua.
Under a sunny winter day, hundreds thousands of people flocked to the square of the Republique to back the nation unity in face of terror threats.
“We are Jewish. We are Christians. We are Muslims. We are French. Let’s not make religion a fact of division. Let’s try to live in peace together in respect of principles of equality and solidarity to have better future in which terrorism has no place,” pleaded Anne-Marie, one of the participants in the rally.
Veteran politicians from the left and right camps, government members, journalists, artists also joined the rally which had implied a huge security operation to secure participants’ safety.
Some 2,200 policemen and 1,500 military officers were deployed Sunday and snipers were also positioned on rooftops.
Thousands of policemen have already been guarding synagogues, mosques, schools and other sites around France after Wednesday’s attack at a satirical weekly magazine by two brothers claiming links with Al Qaeda in Yemen. Ten Journalists and two policemen were killed in the shooting.
Cherif and Said Kouachi were killed Friday afternoon in an assault by French security force.
In a second siege in east Paris, raids units killed Amedy Coulibaly, who shot dead a policewoman at Montrouge on the southern edge of Paris Thursday and took several hostages and killed four of them in a Jewish supermarket Friday.