One year on, Paris marks Charlie Hebdo rally

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Crowds gathered at an event in Paris on Sunday to mark a year since 1.6 million people took to the streets of the French capital in a show of unity after the deadly attacks on the Charlie Hebdo weekly and a Jewish supermarket. (Our picture shows Hollande, Valls and Hidalgo at the event today).

The gathering on January 11, 2015 saw President François Hollande lead dozens of world leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.

Across France, a total of four million took part last year in the biggest mass demonstrations since the Liberation from the Nazis in 1945.

Many showed their solidarity with the slain editors and cartoonists of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo by holding up black-and-white signs reading: “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) and chanting the slogan.

Just as it was last year, the iconic Place de la République was the focal point for people to gather to show their support for freedom of expression and remember the victims of what would become a year of jihadist attacks in France, culminating in the shocking November 13 coordinated shootings and suicide bombings that killed 130 people claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

Johnny Hallyday, the popular 72-year-old French singer, performed a song he wrote about the remarkable outpouring of solidarity on French streets a year ago, called “Un dimanche de janvier” (One Sunday in January).

Controversy?

Ironically, Hallyday was often the subject of mocking cartoons drawn by Cabu, one of the best-known of the Charlie Hebdo staff who were killed, mocking his closeness to the political elite and his colourful love life.

Maryse Wolinski, the widow of another of the murdered cartoonists, Georges Wolinski, said: “I don’t understand why they are having Johnny Hallyday. It should have been jazz for my husband and for Cabu and Charb,” referring to the slain Charlie Hebdo editor, Stephane Charbonnier.

An oak tree in memory of the victims has been planted in Place de la République, which has become the rallying point for mourners of France’s terror attacks.

Mosques in France have opened their doors to the public this weekend in a bid by the Muslim community to build bridges and in a mark of solidarity following the attacks.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve was among those who sipped mint tea as he visited a mosque near Paris on Saturday.

France needs, more than ever, “the engagement of all Muslims in France,” Cazeneuve said, while warning that “the self-proclaimed preachers of hate” in mosques would be dealt with severely.

Thwarted attack

Paris’s three days of terror last January began when jihadist brothers Said and Chérif Kouachi stormed the Charlie Hebdo offices on January 7, gunning down 12 people.

The next day, another extremist, Amédy Coulibaly, shot dead a policewoman before killing four people in a siege at a Jewish supermarket.

The one-year anniversary on Thursday of the Charlie Hebdo shootings was overshadowed when a man was killed by police as he approached a police station in northern Paris wielding a meat cleaver and wearing what later turned out to be a fake explosives vest.

The man, a Tunisian called Tarek Belgacem, shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) before trying to attack an officer at the entrance of the police station in the ethnically-mixed Goutte d’Or district near the tourist hotspot of Montmartre. He was found to be carrying a handwritten letter claiming he was acting in the name of the IS group.

He had been living in an asylum seeker shelter in Germany, a source close to the matter told AFP on Saturday.

The thwarted attack underlined the authorities’ concerns that another terror assault remains highly likely in France. Hollande responded to the November massacre by vowing to crush IS in Syria and Iraq. French jets have been bombing IS targets in both countries.