Thousands of people gathered in central Paris yesterday in a defiant show of solidarity with a teacher beheaded for showing pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
Demonstrators gathered in the central Place de la Republique, a traditional site of protest, holding posters declaring: “No to totalitarianism of thought” and “I am a teacher” in memory of the victim, Samuel Paty.
Similar protests were underway in Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Nantes, Marseille, Lille and Bordeaux.
Friday’s murder shocked the country and brought back memories of a wave of extremist violence in 2015 sparked by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo publishing caricatures of the prophet.
French Minister of National Education Jean-Michel Blanquer called on “everyone to support the teachers,” telling broadcaster France 2 that it was vital to show “our solidarity and unity.”
French Prime Minister Jean Castex and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo were among the officials present at the Place de la Republique.
“I am here as a teacher, as a mother, as a Frenchwoman and as a republican,” a woman named Virginie said.
On Saturday, anti-terror prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said that Paty had been the target of online threats for showing the cartoons to his class.
The father of one schoolgirl had launched an online call for “mobilization” against Paty and had sought his dismissal from the school.
A photograph of the teacher and a message confessing to his murder was found on the mobile phone of his alleged killer, 18-year-old Chechen Abdullakh Anzorov, who was shot dead by police.
The schoolgirl’s father and a known Muslim militant are among those arrested, along with four members of Anzorov’s family.
An 11th person was taken into custody yesterday, a judicial source said, without providing details.
According to parents and teachers, Paty had given Muslim children the option to leave the class before he showed the cartoons, saying that he did not want their feelings hurt.
Kamel Kabtane, rector of the mosque of Lyon and a senior Muslim figure, yesterday said that Paty had merely been “doing his job” and was “respectful” in doing so.
“These terrorists are not religious, but are using religion to take power,” Kabtane said.
Ministers who form France’s defense council were to meet in Paris yesterday to discuss the militant extremist threat.
A national tribute is to be held for Paty on Wednesday.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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