Emotional Day of Mobilisation in France

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After a week of terror that shook France to its core, yesterday was an emotional release of positive energy

The crowds in Paris that attended the historic Marche Républicaine yesterday were so vast that it was impossible to put an accurate estimate on their magnitude.

It was certainly over a million people and official figures from the Ministry of the Interior say that were probably between 1.2 and 1.6 million in total. Overall in France, some 3.7 million people came out on the streets to stand up defiantly in support of the principals of the French Republic in the face of horrendous attacks on citizens and freedom of expression.

Former Prime Minister and Interior Minister Laurent Fabius tweeted these words this morning (see above): “National unity, international unity, liberty, citizenship, steadfastness and pride and the words that come to mind”

The size of the crowds and the outpouring were of unique and record proportions. With the crowds in Paris, the focus was towards the Place de la République. People carried banners with defiant messages in support of the right of the cheeky and provocative satirical magazine that saw its top staff massacred at the hands of extremists last week.

Several heads of state also came to pay their respects to the French republic at the Elysee Palace, as well as joining in the march itself. Our own head of government Taoiseach Enda Kenny was present too, proclaiming in French to reporters “Aujourd’hui, nous sommes tous Français” (Today, we are all French).

All the main political parties in France were represented at the march, with the exception of the Front National. Party leader Marine Le Pen participated instead in a rally in the FN stronghold of Beaucaire in the Gard department, where approximately 1,000 people took to the streets according to AFP. Le Pen took advantage of the situation to attack the government and to say that she did not regret her non-presence at the Paris rally.

More political point-scoring was present in the form of Nicolas Sarkozy. The former president was put in the second row of marchers, following protocol. During the course of the walk, however, he managed to wriggle up to the front of march.

Global photo-bombing: Nicolas Sarkozy manages to get to the front of the queue, next to Mali president Boubacar Keita

Global photo-bombing: Nicolas Sarkozy manages to get to the front of the queue, next to Mali president Boubacar Keita

He was separated from the President of the Republic by just one person and got himself into the front row along with the 44 heads of state in a photo-bomb par excellence for a historical image that will have been seen all around the world.

But that did not do anything to dampen a mood of defiance, song and positivity that infected the French capital on this unique day.

The man who filmed the murder of policeman Ahmed Merabet – Jordi Mir – said that he regrets having put it online. The footage that lasts less than a minute shows one of the Kouachi brothers calmly going up to the injured officer on the pavement and shooting him in the head at point blank range with his rifle, despite evident pleadings from the prone policeman.

50-something Mir had posted the video on his Facebook page (where he has 2,500 friends) before thinking better of his actions and taking it down again 15 minutes later. This was plenty of time, however, for his upsetting footage to be cloned and viewed all over the web, appearing on television news bulletins worldwide that evening.

After having witnessed the murder, he panicked and posted the video from a knee-jerk shock reaction of “needing to talk”. He was alone in his apartment at the time and said that he now regrets what he says was a “stupid reflexive action… On Facebook, there’s no confidentiality. It’s a lesson for me.”

Perhaps one of the most poignant aspects of all in this rally was the manner in which the forces of law and order were not only participant in the crowds but were even applauded and thanked for their role in bringing the terrorist crises to an end. Paris has a history of mass rallies but this is surely the first time ever that the CRS (Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité – riot police) are amongst the marchers and not on the outside controlling their behaviour. A historic day indeed.

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