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Paris march 'unprecedented in French history'

January 11, 2015

Marchers in Paris have staged a mammoth rally that was unique in French history, according to the country's Interior Ministry. Over 3 million people nationwide joined the "march for unity" after the Paris attacks.

Trauermarsch in Paris 11.1.2015
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Fredrik von Erichsen

The French Interior Ministry said the Paris "march for unity" on Sunday afternoon was the largest demonstration to have ever taken place in French history.

Calling the rally "unprecedented," the ministry said it was impossible to count the demonstrators, given that they were so numerous and had spread beyond the official march route.

French media organizations estimated that up to 3 million people had taken part across the country, while a higher estimate ran to 3.3 million.

Hundreds of thousands of people poured through the streets of Paris, heading towards the Place de la Republique in an unprecedented show of solidarity after the week's terrorist attacks in France.

The march was led by families of the victims as well as dozens of world leaders, who included French President Francois Hollande flanked by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. National leaders, like many of the other marchers, walked arm in arm.

Giant letters attached to a statue in the Place de la Republique spelt out the word "Pourquoi?" ("Why?") with sections in the crowd singing the "La Marseillaise" national anthem.

Francois Lamy - the parliamentarian tasked by the ruling Socialist Party with organizing the rally - said he had been told the number would be between 1.3 and 1.5 million.

Some 2,200 police and soldiers were on patrol in Paris to protect marchers, with police snipers on rooftops and plain-clothed officers mingling in the crowds.

A total of 17 people died in three days of violence that began on Wednesday with the murders of 10 people at the Charlie Hebdo office. A security guard and police officer were shot dead outside the magazine's office.

Another police officer was killed on Thursday, as were four hostages taken during a siege at a kosher supermarket on Friday.

"Charlie! Charlie!" was one of the rallying cries at the Paris march, held in memory of the journalists gunned down at the Charlie Hebdo offices.

'Capital of the world'

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and British Prime Minister David Cameron were among the many other world leaders from Africa, Europe and the Middle East who traveled to the French capital.

"Paris is the capital of the world today," said Hollande, a few minutes before welcoming the leaders. "Our entire country will rise up toward something better."

"Today the heart of Europe is beating French," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. He added that the attacks were aimed at "our democracies, our values and our open societies."

Rallies were also organized in London, Brussels, Madrid and New York - all cities previously attacked by al Qaeda-linked extremists - as well as Cairo, Sydney, Stockholm and Tokyo.

Some 18,000 people - many carrying pencils and flowers - gathered next to the iconic Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, in front of the French embassy. As well as signs reading "Je suis Charlie," ("I am Charlie") some read "Je suis Juif" ("I am a Jew").

The Charlie Hebdo killers - Said and Cherif Kouachi - and grocery hostage taker Amedy Coulibaly died when police launched simultaneous raids on the two sites where they were holed up on Friday.

rc/sms (AFP, AP)

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