PARIS: Hundreds of thousands of people rallied around the world Sunday on the eve of a Paris summit aimed at averting catastrophic climate change, but violent clashes in the French capital soured the show of people power.
The global protests, including an emotional linking of hands near the heart of this month’s terror attacks in Paris, were aimed at building grassroots pressure for an historic deal at the UN talks to limit global warming.
As US President Barack Obama and other world leaders began flying into Paris for Monday’s official opening, negotiators vowed at a preliminary session to honor the victims of the attacks by forging an ambitious deal.
“The best way to honor the memory of those who have fallen, those who are victims of barbaric attacks, is to carry out what we have committed to,” the co-chair of the talks, Ahmed Djoghlaf, told participants at a vast conference center in Le Bourget, on the northern outskirts of Paris.
Deep emotions and tensions from the November 13 attacks, in which Islamist militants killed 130 people in a series of gun and suicide bomb assaults, were evident across the City of Lights on Sunday.
French authorities cancelled two climate demonstrations because of security fears.
‘Hear our voices’
But in a show of defiance against the militants and determination to have their voices heard on climate change, thousands of people in Paris gathered to hold hands and link up in a two-kilometer human chain.
“Hear our voices! We are here!” they chanted.
Protesters left a 100-meter gap in the human chain outside the Bataclan concert hall, the site where gunmen killed 90 people, as a mark of respect to the victims.
Instead of marching, activists placed thousands of pairs of shoes — weighing more than four tons according to organizers – in the Place de la Republique.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon left a pair of running shoes, and Pope Francis sent shoes to be placed on his behalf.
But a band of anti-capitalist militants infiltrated the protests, leading to clashes with riot police in the late afternoon and the detention of more than 200 people.
Police fired teargas at protesters, who pelted them with bottles and candles in Place de la Republique and chanted: “State of emergency, police state”, referring to the post-attack protest restrictions.
French President Francois Hollande condemned the “scandalous” behavior of the far-left activists.
“These disruptive elements have nothing to do with defenders of the environment,” Hollande said at an EU-Turkey summit in Brussels.
Before flying out to Paris, Obama said world leaders would show their resolve to stand up to terrorism.
“It’s an opportunity to stand in solidarity with our oldest ally, just two weeks removed from the barbaric attacks there, and reaffirm our commitment to protect our people and our way of life from terrorist threats,” Obama said in a Facebook post before leaving Washington on Air Force One.