'I am Charlie': world leaders join unprecedented Paris rally

Millions in Paris and elsewhere walked in solemn processions on Sunday to denounce terrorism that has inflicted a deep scar on France in a three-day bloodshed that claimed 17 victims.

Image: aawsat.net

More than a million people surged through the boulevards of Paris alone, marching behind dozens of world leaders walking arm-in-arm in a rally for unity described as the largest demonstration in French history.

Demonstrators holding various national flags or banners filled boulevards across Paris as they followed over 40 world leaders who marched arm-in-arm at the front of a gathering said to the largest in Paris since its liberation from Nazi Germany in 1944.

France was plunged into grief and indignation after gunmen killed 17 people in separate attacks over three days in Paris, with 12 killed at the headquarters of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and four at a kosher supermarket (See: France in mourning amid manhunt for 'Hebdo' killer brothers).

Political dignitaries leading Sunday's unity rally in Paris were mainly heads of state or government in Europe. Apart from UK Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, other notable presences included Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The leaders set aside their differences with a common rallying cry: ''We stand together against barbarity, and we are all Charlie.''

India, a frequent target of Islamic terrorism, notably sent no representative – though this is hardly surprising in a country where freedom of speech is a mere letter of the Constitution, and where even the most apparently innocuous 'tweet' could invite official action.

Demonstrators also staged mass rallies to show solidary with France at landmarks in London, Berlin, Madrid, Vienna, in the Middle East and on the other side of the Atlantic.

Thousands of people - many holding placards, pencils, French flags and portraits of the victims - gathered at Trafalgar Square in London for a unity rally at the same time as the Paris march.

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and French ambassador to Britain Sylvie Bermann also joined the crowds at Trafalgar Square, where a vigil was held in tribute to the victims.

The city also lit up its landmarks in colours of the French national flag late Sunday to show solidarity.

In Vienna, some 12,000 people gathered for the same purpose. Before the rally at Ballhausplatz, hundreds had shown up with flowers and candles at the French embassy.

In the Middle East cities of Cairo and Jerusalem, people also gathered to pay tributes to victims of the Paris attacks.

Across the Atlantic, about 25,000 people marched in Canada's French-speaking city of Montreal.

In the US capital, thousands of people joined a silent march led by French ambassador Gerard Araud.

Though all the three gunmen behind the Paris attacks were killed by police, France has maintained a high security level and many other countries upgraded their terror alert level in response to the attacks.