PARIS (Reuters) – Thousands of people gathered in France on Sunday to support teachers and defend freedom of expression following the assassination of Samuel Paty, a history teacher beheaded by a suspected Islamist on Friday.
From Paris to Lyon, Marseille, and Lille large crowds gathered in silence, stopping regularly to applaud, hold a few minutes of silence, or sing the national anthem.
Prime Minister Jean Castex attended the meeting at the Place de La Republique in Paris alongside Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer and politicians from across the spectrum, showing solidarity following a murder that has rocked the country.
You do not scare us. We are not afraid. You will not divide us. We are France! Castex posted on Twitter later.
Paty, 47, was killed outside his school on a Paris suburb by an 18-year-old assailant. Earlier this month, the teacher had shown his students cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on freedom of expression, angering a number of Muslim parents. Muslims believe that any description of the Prophet is blasphemous.
The attacker, who was born in Russia of Chechen origin, was shot dead by police shortly after the attack. Police have detained 11 people in connection with the murder.
People at Sunday’s events wore masks against COVID-19 and carried signs such as Teaching yes, no bleeding or I’m Charlie in a reference to the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, whose offices were attacked in a mass murder five years ago first.
We have been here to defend the Republic, the values of the Republic: freedom, equality, brotherhood and secularism. We can feel that the nation is threatened, said Pierre Fourniou, 83, in Paris.
Paty had been the target of an angry social media campaign before he was killed. Castex said in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche that the government is working on a strategy to better protect teachers from threats.
President Emmanuel Macron was scheduled to hold a security meeting with top ministers later Sunday, his office said.
A national tribute will be organized for Wednesday.
Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Yonathan Van der Voort, Sybille de La Hamaide and Bertrand Boucey; Edited by Frances Kerry
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