France begins one-year commemorations of Charlie Hebdo attack

5th January 2016, Comments 0 comments

French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday kicked off a week of commemorations marking the jihadist rampage in Paris that began with an assault on satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and lasted three days, claiming 17 lives.

Hollande, flanked by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, unveiled a plaque at Charlie Hebdo's former offices, where cartoonists who were household names in France, nicknamed Cabu, Wolinski and Charb, were killed along with nine others.

The January 7-9, 2015, attacks by brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, dubbed "France's 9/11", marked the start of a string of jihadist strikes in the country that culminated in the November 13 attacks in Paris that left 130 dead.

The massacre at Charlie Hebdo unleashed an outpouring of solidarity for freedom of expression, with the rallying cry "Je Suis Charlie" taken up around the world.

After the sombre ceremony in a light drizzle, Hollande could be seen embracing Georges Wolinski's widow Maryse.

Red-faced authorities admitted later that they had misspelled Wolinski's name, promising to correct the plaque "within the hour".

The president and mayor unveiled a separate plaque nearby at the site where one of the jihadist gunmen fleeing the scene shot police officer Ahmed Merabet as he lay on the pavement.

The entourage, limited in size at the request of the victims' families, also included Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

- 'Remembrance tree' -

They went on to unveil a third plaque at the Hyper Cacher, a kosher supermarket in an eastern suburb where four Jews -- three shoppers and an employee -- were killed during a horrifying hostage drama.

Hollande could be seen greeting Lassana Bathily, the Muslim worker at the supermarket credited with saving many shoppers' lives by helping them hide in the store's underground cold room and later aiding police in the logistics of their raid.

The French leader will return to the supermarket on Saturday for another ceremony organised by the Jewish umbrella group CRIF.

Also Saturday, a fourth plaque is to be unveiled at the site in the southern suburb of Montrouge where Amedy Coulibaly, who later attacked the Jewish supermarket, gunned down a policewoman.

Commemorations will culminate in a public event Sunday in the Place de la Republique, the vast square that has become the rallying point for "Je Suis Charlie" solidarity -- as well as the November 13 carnage.

An oak "remembrance tree" standing some 10 metres (35 feet) tall will be planted in the square.

Veteran rocker Johnny Hallyday will perform "Un Dimanche de Janvier" (One January Sunday), a song recalling the vast mobilisation that saw 1.6 million people march in Paris on January 11, 2015.

Dozens of world leaders including British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended the march.

Charlie Hebdo had been a target for jihadist attack since publishing Mohammed cartoons in 2006, and saw its offices firebombed in 2011.

Ingrid Brinsolaro, the widow of cartoonist Charb's bodyguard Franck Brinsolaro who was shot dead in the attack, has filed a lawsuit claiming that her husband was left vulnerable because Charlie Hebdo was inadequately protected.

Cazeneuve on Tuesday defended the decision to reduce security at the magazine's offices before the attack, telling French radio that authorities had determined that jihadists had shifted to targeting soldiers and police.

© 2016 AFP

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