In response to ‘army of fanatics’, Hollande vows ‘more songs’

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PARIS: President Francois Hollande vowed Friday to destroy the “army of fanatics” behind the Paris attacks but also said France would respond with more songs, concerts and shows, as the nation paused to honour the 130 killed.

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“On November 13, a day we will never forget, France was hit at its very heart,” Hollande told a sombre commemoration in the Invalides, the 17th-century complex housing Napoleon’s tomb.

“To all of you, I solemnly promise that France will do everything to destroy the army of fanatics that committed these crimes,” he said.

A crowd of 2,600 dignitaries and some of those injured in the violence gathered in the courtyard of the historic building.

Some of the wounded sat in wheelchairs, while firefighters and ambulance personnel in uniform stood silently in rows, two weeks to the day since gunmen opened fire on bars, restaurants and a concert hall, and detonated suicide vests at the Stade de France stadium.

Photographs of the victims were displayed on a giant screen, their young faces evidence that the attackers struck at those enjoying a Friday night out in the French capital.

“We will not give in either to fear or to hate,” said Hollande, vowing that the French would respond to the attacks defiantly, with more “songs, concerts and shows. We will continue to go to stadiums.”

The attacks — claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group in response for French air strikes on the jihadists in Iraq and Syria — inflicted the worst-ever toll on French soil, leaving 130 dead and 350 injured. Most victims were under 35.

Hollande said “130 destinies had been stolen, 130 laughs that will never be heard again,” adding that they had come from more than 50 places in France and 17 countries.

The attackers acted “in the name of an insane cause and a betrayed God,” he said.

An international manhunt is still on for two key suspects in the attacks — Salah Abdeslam, who played a key logistical role in the wave of terror, and Mohamed Abrini, seen with Abdeslam two days before the November 13 atrocities.

With a UN climate summit due to start on the outskirts of Paris Monday, which around 150 heads of state and government are expected to attend, security across France is tight and rallies have been banned.

The police have carried out 1,836 raids nationwide since the attacks, with more than 500 people placed in custody or under house arrest, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Friday.

The Council of Europe — the Strasbourg-based European watchdog on human rights — said Friday that France would invoke exemption from the continent’s rights charter after it declared a state of emergency after the attacks.

Under Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights, a signatory can seek a so-called derogation from certain rights in the event of an extreme emergency that threatens the nation. But measures must be proportionate and comply with international law.

Under France’s emergency measures, police have been given stronger powers to carry out raids or electronic surveillance.

Having vowed to crush IS for their role in the attacks, Hollande has spent the week in a whirlwind diplomatic bid to build a broad military coalition, although his efforts have met with limited success.

On Friday, he urged British MPs to back Prime Minister David Cameron’s bid for Britain to join the air campaign against the jihadists in Syria.

“I can only call on all British members of parliament, in solidarity with France but, above all, conscious of the fight against terrorism, to approve this intervention,” Hollande said at the Commonwealth summit in Malta, where he flew after the ceremonies in Paris.

Hollande has been backed by Germany, which has offered Tornado reconnaissance jets, a naval frigate, and 650 soldiers to relieve French forces in Mali.

In Moscow on Thursday, he said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed to coordinate bombing raids against IS.

The future role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, however, remains a deeply divisive issue.

Putin said the Syrian army was a “natural partner in the fight against terrorism”, while Hollande reiterated the view that Assad “has no place in the future of Syria.”

On Friday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he could envisage Syrian government troops taking part in the anti-IS fight, though he later clarified to AFP that this could only happen after a change of regime.

Hollande’s drive has secured some offers of support from France’s allies but the United States remains sceptical about increased military action in the absence of capable local forces on the ground and a clear political strategy.

AFP

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