Charlie Hebdo attacks spark biggest march in French history

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Well over 3 million people across France are estimated to have marched over the weekend in response to French terror attacks that saw a total of 17 people killed across four locations last week. It marks the biggest rally in French history and marchers included not only ordinary French citizens but heads of state from all over the world.

This unprecedented march followed the horrific attack on the offices of Charlie Hedbo, a weekly satirical magazine, and two hostages situations, one in a kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes and another at Dammartin-en-Goële. The magnitude of the attack has shaken France and the ‘je suis Charlie’ movement has created a huge groundswell of support, producing the largest demonstration since World War Two.

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The January 7th attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices was a planned and carried out by two radical Islamist brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi. Beginning at 11.30am local time, they killed 12 and injured 11, most of whom were the editorial staff at Charlie Hebdo. Perhaps best known is Charb, the editor-in-chief, otherwise known as Stephane Charbonnier, famous for saying he would ‘rather die standing than live on [his] knees’. As the day unfolded there were more attacks, and as well as the Charlie Hebdo shooting and the Porte de Vincennes hostage crisis, a shooting in Montrouge led to the death of a female police officer. Amedy Coulibaly, who was a member of the same terror cell as the Kouachi brothers, carried out the attack on the kosher supermarket. His wife, Hayat Boumeddiene, who is also radicalised, has escaped to Syria – after her husband was killed by an armed response unit. The combined attacks were the deadliest on French soil since the 1961 Vitry Train bombing by (OAS), an organisation opposing the independence of Algeria.

In Paris alone over a million gathered, to march a 2.5 mile route. This is more people on the streets than gathered after Nazi liberation. Free public transport was organised so that mourners could flock to the capital, and they did. Striking images show packed streets and squares, with many marchers wielding signs and placards proclaiming ‘Je suis Charlie’, ‘Liberté’ or ‘Pour la France’. The overall numbers through France have been speculated that that upwards of 3.7million were involved although the is only speculative due to the huge numbers involved.

On Sunday (11th January 2015) the sheer number of people gathered, meant Parisian police situated sharpshooters at key locations across the capital including the Place de la République, where much of the focus was.

What has made these demonstrations so unique, is that whilst Paris has seen many particularly divisive political protests in recent times, this was not the case here. These demonstrations have shown an overall feeling of unity and togetherness as a common theme. This was demonstrated by the cheering of the police during the march, who are usually called in to provide a imposing authoritarian presence. These recent Paris terrorist attacks have left many – like teacher Edith Gaudin – in shock. Gaudin says:

“I’m fed up with all the hatred in the world. I can’t stand people hating each other. More than just free expression, I want people to live together and to accept each other, even if they are different.”

Amongst the heads of state, were our own Prime Minister David Cameron, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President of the Palestinian authority Mahmoud Abbas, as well as figures from the Ukraine and Russian governments. In extraordinary scenes, the crowd of heads of state lined up at the front of the march and inspired French president Francois Hollande to exclaim that ‘Today, Paris is the Capital of the World.’

To read our response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks, please click here

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