PARIS: Tens of thousands are expected to attend an event in Paris Sunday to mark a year since 1.6 million people thronged the French capital in a show of unity after attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a Jewish supermarket.
The gathering on January 11, 2015 was fronted by dozens of world leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.
A total of four million people took to the streets across France 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).
Just as it was last year, the vast Place de la Republique will be the focus of the gathering as people reiterate their support for freedom of expression and remember the other victims of what would become a year of jihadist outrages in France, culminating in the November 13 coordinated shootings and suicide bombings that killed 130 people and were claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.
Paris’s three days of terror last January began when jihadist brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi stormed the Charlie Hebdo offices on January 7, gunning down 12 people.
The next day, another extremist, Amedy 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 IS.
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.
Johnny Hallyday, the 72-year-old singer who remains immensely popular in France, will perform 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).
Ironically, Hallyday was often the subject of mocking cartoons drawn by Cabu, one of the best-known of the Charlie Hebdo staff to be killed, that jibed at his closeness to politicians 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.