France's Hollande begins Paris attacks commemorations at stadium

People gather around flowes and candles laid next to the Bataclan concert hall in Paris before it reopened on Nov 12, 2016.
People gather around flowes and candles laid next to the Bataclan concert hall in Paris before it reopened on Nov 12, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) – French President Francois Hollande on Sunday (Nov 13) began commemorations for the first anniversary of the Paris attacks by unveiling a plaque in memory of a man killed by suicide bombers at the Stade de France.

Manuel Dias, 63, died outside the national stadium where France were playing Germany in a football match during the first attack of a series on the evening of Nov 13, 2015, that killed 130 people.

Hollande and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo went on to unveil plaques at bars and restaurants in the trendy neighbourhood where gunmen from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group sprayed bullets at revellers enjoying a Friday evening out.

The final ceremony was to take place at the Bataclan, the concert hall where 90 people were killed by three attackers during a rock gig in the culmination of the carnage.

Rock superstar Sting reopened the refurbished Bataclan with a hugely symbolic show on Saturday.

“We will not forget them,” the British singer told the crowd in French after a minute’s silence for the victims.

“Tonight we have two tasks to achieve: first to remember those who lost their lives in the attack, and then to celebrate life and music in this historic place,” he said.

Sting began the emotionally charged concert with his song “Fragile”, singing: “Nothing comes from violence and nothing will.” Many in the crowd wept during the first song, before the more upbeat “Message In a Bottle”.

“I’ll send an SOS to the world,” he sang. “Only hope can keep us alive.” .

Scores of survivors of the attack attended the sold-out concert.

Among them was Aurelien, who had been determined to return to the scene of so much horror.

 
 

“It’s the first time I’ve been in a public space for a year. I haven’t been to the cinema, to a concert, I get my shopping delivered – I’ve always stayed at mine,” said the man in his thirties, who did not want to give his full name.

“Tonight I’m taking my life back like it was before. It’s a duty, there’s an obligation to be here – because there are 90 people who can’t come anymore,” he added, visibly moved, his hands trembling.

The Bataclan’s co-director said he had prevented two members of the US group Eagles of Death Metal – who were on stage when the bloodshed started last year – from entering the Sting concert over controversial remarks by their lead singer Jesse Hughes.

“They came, I threw them out – there are things you can’t forgive,” said the venue’s co-director Jules Frutos.

However the band’s manager Marc Pollack denied members of the group had tried to enter the concert hall at all.

Hughes caused dismay in France earlier this year by suggesting Muslim staff at the Bataclan were involved in the attack.

A rare right-wing rocker and supporter of US president-elect Donald Trump, Hughes will however be present outside the concert hall on Sunday for the unveiling of the plaque to the victims.

The wave of attacks profoundly shook France but Prime Minister Manuel Valls vowed Saturday that “Islamist terrorism” would be defeated once and for all.

“Terrorism will strike us again,” he warned. “But we have in ourselves all the resources to resist and all the strength to beat it.” 

France is part of the international coalition launching air strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria.

At home, the country remains under a state of emergency, while terrorism and the role of Islam are key themes six months before presidential elections.

Valls said Sunday that the country’s state of emergency will likely be extended as France gears up for presidential elections.

“It is difficult today to end the state of emergency,” Valls told BBC television. “Especially since we are going to begin a presidential campaign in a few weeks with meetings, with public gatherings. So we must also protect our democracy,” Valls added in the interview with the BBC’s HARDtalk programme.

“Besides, this state of emergency device allows us to make arrests, administrative checks which are effective... So yes, we are probably going to live a few months more with this state of emergency.”

The state of emergency was introduced on the night of the Paris attacks and extended for six months in late July.

While stressing he remained “very cautious”, Valls said the risk of similar coordinated attacks appeared to have diminished.

“But we may face attacks of the kind that we saw in Nice,” he said, referring to the July attack in the Riviera resort in which a 31-year-old Tunisian mowed down 86 people in a truck.

“That’s to say some individuals who are driven directly by the internet, by social networks, by the Islamic Sate group, without having to go to Syria or Iraq.”