France remembers terror victims one year on with muted ceremony

10th January 2016, Comments 0 comments

A year after a million and a half people thronged Paris in solidarity with the victims of the attack on satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, the traumatised city marked the anniversary of the killings with a sombre ceremony.

Around 2,000 people submitted to strict security checks to get into the Place de la Republique for the event, many saying they were determined to attend despite a lingering sense of fear after France was repeatedly targeted by jihadists in 2015.

"A year ago, lots of posters read 'Not Even Scared', but no, in fact we are scared," said Gabriel Taran, 52. "But we have to be here, and continue to go to sidewalk cafes, to concerts -- to learn to live with it, not give up anything."

Twelve people were killed in the January 7, 2015, assault on Charlie Hebdo, which had been in the jihadists' sights since publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2006.

The next day, another extremist, Amedy Coulibaly, shot dead a policewoman and went on to kill four people at a Jewish supermarket.

Sunday's event was also dedicated to the victims of the November 13 jihadist rampage across Paris targeting ordinary people enjoying a night out, which left 130 dead.

- 'Brought it all back' -

New violence Thursday added to the jitters when a Tunisian man was shot dead by police as he approached a Paris police station wielding a meat cleaver and a fake explosives vest, on the exact anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attack.

He was carrying a handwritten letter claiming to act in the name of the Islamic State group.

"What happened on Thursday brought it all back," said Katelyn Kiner, a 20-year-old student from Chicago, while insisting on shrugging off her fears.

"Every time I go out it's in direct defiance (saying) 'I'm not going to let those evil men take away my lifestyle -- it means too much to me'," she said.

The thwarted attack underlined official concerns that another terror assault remains highly likely in France.

After presiding over Sunday's ceremony, French President Francois Hollande made an unannounced visit to the main Paris mosque for "a moment of friendship and fraternity over a cup of tea", a presidency official said.

Mosques across France opened their doors to the public this weekend in a bid by the Muslim community to build bridges following the attacks.

Hollande responded to the November massacre by vowing to crush IS, and French jets have been bombing the group in Syria and Iraq.

Sunday's understated event was a far cry from January 11, 2015, when four million citizens rallied across France, in the biggest mass demonstrations since the end of World War II.

The outpouring of support for freedom of expression at the time was crowned by a huge march in Paris that included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, with the world rallying around the slogan "Je Suis Charlie".

On Sunday, Hollande led a programme of music and readings dedicated to the victims and the city of Paris.

Johnny Hallyday -- the 72-year-old rocker known as the French Elvis -- sang "Un Dimanche de Janvier" (A January Sunday) that he penned in honour of last year's massive march.

"We came without fear and without hatred to remember our heroes of ink and paper," sang the artist who was a frequent target of Cabu, one of the slain Charlie cartoonists.

The singer, accustomed to thunderous accolades at sold-out concerts, drew only polite applause for the performance.

"I'm like Cabu, I can't stand Johnny," laughed 60-year-old Yvette at the event.

"There are fewer people here because of the 'state of war' -- I'm using Hollande's term," the financial compliance officer said.

- 'Friendship and fraternity' -

"Everyone is scared," said a Cameroonian schoolteacher, Germaine Lipeb, who normally takes her children to church on Sundays but skipped it this week.

She said she had been at the national stadium on November 13, where the jihadist attacks began.

"If I hadn't been at the stadium I would have been at a cafe" near the Place de la Republique where diners and drinkers were gunned down, Lipeb added.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo acknowledged Sunday's disappointing turnout with a quip, saying "Parisians are not really morning people."

Later Sunday, as night fell, the square's central statue of Marianne -- symbol of the French republic -- was illuminated, as well as a "remembrance tree", an oak planted at the west end of the square in honour of the attack victims.

Muslims meanwhile remain anxious over being associated with jihadists.

"People generalise, they mix everything up," said Ahmed Arkiz, a 59-year-old company chauffeur from Morocco who stayed away from Sunday's event.


© 2016 AFP

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