Defiance and fraternity as millions march in France

The same words were on every lips, on every placard: ‘Je suis Charlie’

French citizens demonstrate at a solidarity rally in Paris as night falls. Video: Reuters

The human tide inched through the boulevards of Paris yesterday, filling every interstice, every square foot of pavement.

It was a flow so dense that marchers could at times barely move or breathe and were forced to stand in place for long periods. Waves of demonstrators were still passing the starting point three hours after the march set off.

Yet throughout this outpouring of fraternité they remained good-natured. Chants of "Char-lie. Char-lie" erupted, followed by ripples of applause. The same words were on every lips, on every placard: "Je suis Charlie. Nous sommes Charlie."

A crowd of at least 5,000 marched from the GPO in O’Connell Street to Leinster House in solidarity with the people of France. Video: Ronan McGreevy

Or, as paraphrased by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who walked at the front of the march with President François Hollande and 50 other heads of state and government, "Nous sommes tous français aujourd'hui."


"Today, Paris is the capital of the world," Mr Hollande said. He was flanked by Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and German chancellor Angela Merkel. Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu marched alongside Keita, while Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, was on the far side of Dr Merkel.

Massacred 12 people

Only four days had passed since Chérif and Said Kouachi, sons of Algerian immigrants who claimed to represent al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, massacred 12 people at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly. The Kouachis' accomplice, Ahmedi Coulibaly, the son of Malian immigrants and a follower of Islamic State, shot a policewoman dead on Thursday. On Friday, the Kouachis and Coulibaly made their last stands, in an industrial zone north of Paris, and in a kosher supermarket where Coulibaly killed four Jewish hostages.

In all, the rampage claimed 17 French lives in three days. The marchers overcame fears of more attacks to join in the gathering. "Même pas peur – not even scared – appeared on many placards. Some 4,300 police and 1,350 soldiers were deployed. Police snipers stood on rooftops. A helicopter flew high overhead.

Prime minister Manuel Valls predicted "an unprecedented demonstration" that would be "written in the history books".

It surpassed all expectations. According to the interior ministry, 3.7 million people marched in French cities, including more than 1.5 million in Paris. Not even at the liberation of Paris from Nazi Germany had so many French people gone into the streets.

For a day, the French set their differences aside, finding unity in their attachment to the secular republic, and in their rejection of extremism.

The marchers vowed not to confuse extremism with Islam. “The French are not stupid. They know the difference between Islamic State and people like us,” said Sema Sezen (25), the daughter of Turkish immigrants.

“I love France”

Her uncle Cumali Sezen, a tailor, emigrated from Istanbul 25 years ago. "I love France, " he said. "When I was a student in Turkey, we read Balzac and Victor Hugo. We were educated with European values and we have come to protest at the threat against them."

Reporters Without Borders objected to the presence of leaders from Egypt, Russia, Turkey, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates, all of whom it accused of suppressing the freedom of expression.

Seamus Dooley, the Irish secretary for the National Union of Journalists, and Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, marched alongside French trade unions and families of the murdered journalists.

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is an Irish Times contributor

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic is the Editor of The Irish Times