Tens of thousands march across Europe in solidarity with France

11th January 2015, Comments 0 comments

Tens of thousands of people joined rallies in cities across Europe on Sunday, singing the Marseillaise and holding up pens in solidarity with France after terror attacks left 17 people dead.

Some 20,000 people marched through the Belgian capital Brussels, holding banners saying "United against hate" and "Freedom of speech".

In Berlin, 9,000 joined the march while in Madrid's Plaza de Sol, hundreds descended on the streets with red, white and blue French flags, and singing the French national anthem.

Top Belgian cartoonist Philippe Gelluck was at the Brussels march to show support for murdered colleagues from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

"We have to fight on, like our parents and grandparents did, against religious fascism. I will continue more than ever, in honour of my fallen friends, and the idea of freedom," he said.

"I know the Muslim community feels wounded and humiliated by these cartoons, but they were not taking aim at Islam but at fundamentalism."

At the Madrid protest, French student Louis Eimery, 21, said: "We are here to say that we are not afraid."

The crowd stood silent, as the names of victims -- including four of France's most revered cartoonists -- who were executed by Islamist extremists were read out.

"It was a terribly barbarous attack, they attacked universal values," said Angel Freire, a 65-year-old retired teacher who worked in both Spain and France.

- 'Not in our name' -

Many of the demonstrators joined a separate rally held by hundreds of Muslims at Madrid's Atocha station, the scene of the worst terror attack in Spanish history, to condemn violence committed in the name of Islam.

Veiled women with young children joined groups of young men at the rally, holding up signs that read "Not in our name" and "I am Muslim and I am not a terrorist".

"We don't want killings carried out in the name of Islam. I don't want people to give me a dirty look on the street, I don't want people to avoid me," said Driss Bouzdoudou, 30, who has lived in Spain for the past 14 years.

The rally was held near a monument to the victims of the March 11, 2004 train bombings, when Islamist militants killed 191 people and injured nearly 2,000 in a series of coordinated backpack bomb attacks on trains travelling to the station.

"This is to say that we are against all types of terrorism that have been carried out in here in Spain or any other country, that you can't commit terrorism in the name of noble or less noble causes," said Said Ida Hassan, the head of the Arab Cultural Foundation, one of the organisers of the demonstration.

"If you are against Charlie Hebdo there are legal means. We want to encourage dialogue, the culture of respect."

Elsewhere in Europe, about 3,000 people turned out in driving snow and sub-zero conditions in Stockholm, many holding pens in the air.

Others were shielding candles from the wind in a silent vigil for the victims, according to Journalists Without Borders which organised the Swedish rally.

"It's important to stand up for democracy and freedom of expression and show solidarity with the people who were affected," Goeran Andersson, a 72 year-old pensioner told AFP.

"This could lead to a growth in Islamophobia, that's what the fundamentalists want -- to polarize people. But I think France and other countries have reacted very well."


© 2015 AFP

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