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Obama's a No-Show as World Leaders, Millions Rally in France

Image: Obama's a No-Show as World Leaders, Millions Rally in France
A picture taken in Madrid on January 12, 2015 shows the front pages of Spanish newspapers (L from Top) La Vanguardia, El Pais, El Mundo, El Periodico, ABC, Expansion, ABC, Cinco Dias and La Razon displaying headlines of the response to the recent Islamist attacks that killed 17 people. (AFP/Getty Images)

By    |   Sunday, 11 Jan 2015 06:48 PM

President Barack Obama was a no-show as more than 40 other world leaders led over a million people through the streets of Paris on Sunday in a rally for unity described as the largest demonstration in French history.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder who was in Paris at the time also skipped the show of defiance to Islamic terrorists, leaving it to an American envoy to represent the most powerful nation in the world.

The White House had no comment on Obama's absence and the U.S. Embassy in Paris did not say why Holder wasn't at the march.

French President Francois Hollande and leaders from Germany, Italy, Turkey and Britain moved off from the central Place de la Republique ahead of a sea of French and other flags, reported Reuters.

The somber procession also included Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who set aside their differences for a common purpose, reported The Associated Press.

At least 1.2 million to 1.6 million people streamed slowly through the streets behind them and across France to mourn the victims of deadly attacks on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, a kosher supermarket and police officers,

"Our entire country will rise up toward something better," said Hollande.

Details of the attacks continued to emerge, with new video showing one of the gunmen pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group and detailing how the attacks were going to unfold. That gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, was also linked to a new shooting, two days after he and the brothers behind the Charlie Hebdo massacre were killed in nearly simultaneous police raids.

The attacks tested France's proud commitment to its liberties, which authorities may now curtail to ensure greater security. Marchers recognized this as a watershed moment.

"It's a different world today," said Michel Thiebault, 70.

Illustrating his point, there were cheers Sunday for police vans that wove through the crowds – a rare sight at the many demonstrations that the French have staged throughout their rebellious history, when protesters and police are often at odds.

Many shed the aloof attitude Parisians are famous for, helping strangers with directions, cheering and crying together. Sad and angry but fiercely defending their freedom of expression, the marchers honored the dead and brandished pens or flags of other nations.

Giant rallies were held throughout France and major cities around the world, including London, Madrid and New York – all attacked by al-Qaida-linked extremists – as well as Cairo, Sydney, Stockholm, Tokyo and elsewhere.

In Paris, the Interior Ministry said "the size of this unprecedented demonstration makes it impossible to provide a specific count," noting that the crowds were too big to fit on the official march route and spread to other streets.

Later, the ministry said 3.7 million marched throughout France, including roughly between 1.2 million and 1.6 million in Paris — but added that a precise count is impossible given the enormity of the turnout.

On Republic Square, deafening applause rang out as the 44 world leaders walked past, amid tight security and an atmosphere of togetherness amid adversity. Families of the victims, holding each other for support, marched in the front along with the leaders and with journalists working for the Charlie Hebdo newspaper. Several wept openly.

"Je Suis Charlie" — "I Am Charlie," read legions of posters and banners. Many waved editorial cartoons, the French tricolor and other national flags.

As night fell on the unusually unified city, some lit candles.

The French president joined Netanyahu in a visit to a synagogue Sunday night as authorities sought to reassure the Jewish population – Europe's largest – that it is safe to stay in France. About 7,000 of France's half-million Jews emigrated to Israel last year amid concerns for their safety and the economy.

"The entire world is under attack" from radical Islam, Netanyahu said, citing attacks in cities from Madrid to Mumbai. He said these aren't isolated incidents but part of a "network of hatred" by radical groups.

At the synagogue, 17 candles were lit in tribute to the victims of the attacks. One was lit by a hostage at the kosher grocery store. The last was lit by two women whose sons were killed by Mohamed Merah, a radical Islamic gunman who attacked a Jewish school and paratroopers in southern France in 2012.

"The terrorists want two things: they want to scare us and they want to divide us," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told TV channel iTele. "We must do the opposite: We must stand up and we must stay united."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi were among 44 foreign leaders marching with Hollande.

According to Reuters, Merkel walked to Hollande's left and at his right was President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali, a country where France intervened to fight Islamist rebels two years ago to the day.

In a rare public display of emotion by the leaders of two powers, Hollande embraced Merkel, her eyes shut and forehead resting on his cheek, on the steps of the Elysee before they headed off to march.

Renzi said the fight against terrorism will be won by a Europe that is political, not just economic.

"The most important is the Europe of values, of culture, of ideals and that is the reason we are here," Renzi said.

Netanyahu – who earlier in the day encouraged French Jews to emigrate to Israel – and Abbas walked just a few steps from one another.

The U.S. was represented at the Paris rally by Ambassador Jane Hartley.
 

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President Barack Obama was a no-show as more than 40 other world leaders led over a million people through the streets of Paris on Sunday in a rally for unity described as the largest demonstration in French history.
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2015-48-11
Sunday, 11 Jan 2015 06:48 PM
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