France Terror Attack: Rally to Support Teacher, Free Speech

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Published on 18 Oct 2020, 20:47
Thousands of people gather in Paris, France, Sunday, October 18, to pay homage to the teacher decapitated for showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to his pupils.

France saw countrywide rallies defending free speech and secularism over the weekend, while the government discussed a stronger response to Islamist extremism following the brutal killing of a French schoolteacher last week.

Masks firmly on, per the capital’s coronavirus rules, tens of thousands assembled at the Place de la Republique in Paris and several other major cities following Friday’s beheading of middle school history teacher Samuel Paty. Some waved French flags and brandished banners celebrating free expression, as speakers paid a somber tribute to the country’s latest victim of terrorism.

A national commemoration takes place Wednesday in honor of Paty, who died in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine.

In some ways, the outpouring of shock and grief is a repeat of nearly six years ago, when millions of pencil-brandishing protesters defended free expression, following the terrorist attacks targeting the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine.

But despite calls of national unity after this second terrorist attack in less than a month, the moment is also being marked by division and criticism over the government’s response to radical Islam.

It also comes amid—and is partly shaped by— the country’s very different battle against another crisis, the coronavirus pandemic.

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