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Amid the mourning, French unity shows cracks

As France paid homage to the victims of the Paris terrorist attacks, there are growing fears of a rollback of French freedoms and rights. Elizabeth Bryant reports from Paris.

Not far from several of the nightspots targeted by terrorists this month, Martine Galtiau snapped photos of a bar where T-shirts bearing the red, white and blue colors of France hung just above the entrance.

"I live in this neighborhood, and we all feel involved - perhaps more than the rest of France," Galtiau said, adding she planned on hanging a flag outside her apartment window in honor of the victims. "I absolutely feel proud to be French, to be Parisian these days," she told DW.

woman hanging up flags outside café copyright: Elizabeth Bryant

Vive la France!

As she spoke, a van slowed down and a man poked his head out into the wintry morning. "Liberty, Fraternity, Equality!" he yelled, before zooming off.

A nation in mourning came together on Friday to mark the 130 people who died in this month's terrorist attacks around the French capital. As French around the country hung flags in a rare display of patriotism, President Francois Hollande presided over a sombre ceremony at the Invalides military complex in the capital, attended by victims' families and government members.

"We will sing even more, continue going to concerts and stadiums," Hollande said, capturing a sentiment echoed by ordinary Parisians. France sticks to its principles of hope and tolerance."

Watch video 02:07

France remembers terror victims

Cracks in unity

But French unity is already showing cracks. Some victims' relatives boycotted the ceremony, complaining authorities failed to take proper security precautions.

Still others here fear their country is tilting in the opposite direction, as the government considers writing the current state of emergency - recently extended for another three months - into the constitution.

Indeed, in conversations around the capital, some Parisians worried the law-and-order proposals risk undermining the very values being celebrated on Friday. "It's certain the government should have acted more quickly after January 11," said Galtiau, referring to the first set of Paris attacks this year. "But I don't agree with changing our constitution. We cannot reduce our individual liberties."

To be sure, public opinion for now largely favors law and order. A recent poll found a striking 84 percent of French were willing to give up some of their liberties for greater security - at least in the short term. Center and far-right opposition parties have also backed tougher security measures and Hollande has seen his once-dismal popularity ratings shoot up in recent days.

But rights and other civil society groups are alarmed that France's cherished freedoms risk being rolled back.

"We understand that in this very specific, exceptional context, such measures can be put into place for a very specific duration of time," Nicolas Krameyer, head of the Amnesty International France's free expression programme, told DW. "Our main concern is that the state of emergency and some of the exceptions to the state of law become permanent."

Freedoms rolled back

The short-term effects have been dramatic. Police have rounded up dozens of potential terrorist suspects and other extremists in recent days, a crackdown mirrored in neighboring Belgium where authorities notched up the country's security alert over fears of a Paris-style attack.

woman against backdrop of flowers copyright: Elizabeth Bryant

Young Parisians are worried about a rollback of rights

Marches and other public events for next week's UN climate conference outside Paris have also been banned, while police searches around the country have shot up.

"It's too early to talk about a French Patriot Act," said Krameyer, referring to the US legislation implemented after 9/11, which has since been eased. "But certain measures can definitely be threatening the state of law and human rights, like (restrictions) on free expression and association."

So far, the details of the proposed constitutional changes are unclear. But Hollande wants to make it easier to expel foreigners considered a security threat, expel radical Islamists and strip convicted terrorists of their French nationality if they have dual citizenship.

As the French president paid homage to the victims, Laetitia Gaspar wandered around the city's iconic Place de la Republique, examining piles of notes and flowers at a makeshrift shrine. The square was rocked by massive anti-terror demonstrations after January's Paris attacks, and Gaspar regretted a ban on protest under the current emergency law.

"It's part of French culture to demonstrate and I think it would give us a sense of cohesion after these attacks," she told DW. "I'm worried these measures will divide us exactly when we need to be united."

Too much of a sacrifice?

Three organizations - Le Monde and Mediapart news groups, along with civil liberties watchdog La Quadrature du Net - have set up a web-based "observatory of the state of emergency" that has registered more than 1,200 police searches since this month's attacks, among other acts.

Islamic groups are also reporting what they claim to be police profiling against Muslims, including searches and house detentions.

sign among leaves copyright: Elizabeth Bryant

Liberty versus security: a balancing act

Those fears were mirrored in some of the messages left at the Place de La Republique. "A people ready to sacrifice a little liberty against a little security," reads one, scrawled on a piece of cardboard, "will lose both."

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