Crowds gather for historic Paris march of defiance and sorrow

Crowds gather for historic Paris march of defiance and sorrow
People march during a demonstration attended by an estimated 45.000 on the old harbour in Marseille, southern France on January 10, 2015 as tens of thousands of people staged rallies across France following three days of terror and twin siege dramas that claimed 17 victims, including the victims of the first attack by armed gunmen on the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7.

PARIS - More than a million people and dozens of world leaders were expected to march through Paris Sunday in a historic display of global defiance against extremism after jihadist attacks that left 17 dead.

In an unprecedented show of unity, the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority will both be among the world leaders attending the rally to honour the victims of three days of bloodshed that included Jews and a Muslim police officer among the dead.

Under clear blue skies, emotions were already running high in the shell-shocked City of Light, as people from all walks of life began to rally under the banner of freedom of speech and liberty.

"I want to show that we're not scared of the extremists. I want to defend freedom of expression," said 70-year-old Jacqueline Saad-Rouana.

Another woman in her 50s who declined to be named said she was going to the march as it is "the way to show that I live in a country where everyone has their place." The families of those who died in the three blood-soaked days that shook France to its core will rub shoulders with royalty and heads of state within an iron ring of security.

Defences were beefed up in a jittery Paris still reeling from the Islamist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket, with thousands of extra troops and police deployed to guard the march and snipers positioned along the route.

"I have no doubt that millions of citizens will come to express their love of liberty, their love of fraternity," French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told an emotional rally on Saturday near where a gunman killed four hostages at the supermarket.

In a foretaste of the demonstration, more than 700,000 people poured onto the streets of cities across France on Saturday, many carrying banners reading "Je suis Charlie" (I am Charlie), the tribute to Charlie Hebdo that has been the global rallying point in the wake of the slaughter.

Many brandished pens to symbolise freedom of expression after the magazine was targeted for its cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammed. 

Arson attack

Along with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, the king and queen of Jordan will be present and a host of top European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

US President Barack Obama will be represented by Attorney General Eric Holder, who will also take part in an emergency meeting of interior ministers to discuss the threats posed by Islamic extremism.

Speaking on a visit to India, US Secretary of State John Kerry said: "We stand together this morning with the people of France. We stand together not just in anger and outrage but in solidarity and commitment in confronting extremists." President Francois Hollande, who will lead the tributes to the victims, has warned his shell-shocked country not to drop its guard in the face of possible new attacks.

The three-day rampage by three gunmen, who claimed to be members of the Al-Qaeda and Islamic State extremist groups, was followed by a chilling new threat from the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

AQAP top sharia official Harith al-Nadhari warned France to "stop your aggression against the Muslims" or face further attacks, in comments released by the SITE monitoring group.

German newspaper Bild said the bloodshed in France could signal the start of a wave of attacks in Europe, citing communications by Islamic State leaders intercepted by US intelligence.

It said the US National Security Agency had intercepted communications in which leaders of the jihadist group announced the next wave of attacks, the mass circulation daily said in its Sunday edition, citing unnamed sources in the US intelligence services.

Early Sunday, a German newspaper in the northern port city of Hamburg that reprinted Mohammed cartoons from Charlie Hebdo was the target of an arson attack although no one was hurt.

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