'We will not give in to fear or hate'

French President Francois Hollande (left, on the podium) giving a speech yesterday in central Paris during the solemn ceremony in honour of the 130 people killed during the Nov 13 Paris terrorist attacks.
French President Francois Hollande (left, on the podium) giving a speech yesterday in central Paris during the solemn ceremony in honour of the 130 people killed during the Nov 13 Paris terrorist attacks.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Hollande pledges his country would respond to those behind Paris attacks with more songs, concerts, shows

PARIS • France has held a solemn ceremony for the victims of the Paris attacks, with President Francois Hollande vowing that the country would respond to the "army of fanatics" with more songs, concerts and shows.

"We will not give in either to fear or to hate," said Mr Hollande on Thursday in the courtyard of the Invalides buildings in central Paris, speaking to 2,000 dignitaries and those injured in the violence.

"To all of you, I solemnly promise that France will do everything to destroy the army of fanatics that committed these crimes," he said.

The ceremony began with the President's arrival on a cold and misty day to the sound of the national anthem La Marseillaise being played by the Republican Guard.

Photos of the 130 people killed in the attacks of Nov 13 were shown on a black screen, while singers gave a stirring rendition of the classic ballad, Quand on n'a que l'amour (When All We Have Is Love), by Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel.

Mr Hollande said "130 destinies had been stolen", adding that they had come from more than 50 places in France and 17 countries.

The majority of the victims were under 35 years old, he said, highlighting that the attacks targeted popular nightlife areas in the French capital.

"It's because they represented life that they were killed; it's because they represented France that they were slaughtered; it's because they represented freedom that they were massacred," he said.

Among the crowd were some of the 350 people injured in the attacks, many in wheelchairs.

The coordinated suicide bomb and gun attacks on bars and restaurants, a concert hall and the Stade de France stadium two weeks ago were the worst terror attacks on French soil. They were claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group, and have been described as a declaration of war by Mr Hollande.

The attackers acted "in the name of an insane cause and a betrayed God", said Mr Hollande. He said France would respond with more "songs, concerts and shows. We will continue to go to stadiums".

The attacks by the militants have awakened a patriotic fervour in France not seen in decades.

Thousands of people have been flocking to sign up with the military. Those seeking to enlist in the French army have quintupled to around 1,500 a day. Local and national police offices are flooded with applications. Even sales of the French flag, which the French rarely display, have skyrocketed since the attacks.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Colonel Eric de Lapresle, a spokesman for the French army's recruiting service. "People are coming in and contacting us in droves through social media, using words like liberty, defence and the fight against terror."

The surge in France, which no longer has conscription, mirrors what happened in the United States after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.

In the two years after those terrorist assaults, the number of US active-duty personnel rose by more than 38,000 to 1.4 million.

A few kilometres from where gunmen stormed eateries and the Bataclan concert hall, recruiters at the Fort Neuf de Vincennes in east Paris were deluged the next day with inquiries from young people, former military personnel and even retirees wanting to know whether and how soon they could take up arms.

Mr Jeremy Moulin had been walking with friends near the Bois de Vincennes in Paris when the texts started flashing on his cellphone about the terrorist attacks. On Monday, 10 days after the mayhem, he went to Fort Neuf to ask how quickly he could be in uniform.

"These attacks motivated me even more to protect my country," said Mr Moulin, 23, a former legal intern. "The terrorists struck in the heart of Paris. If we don't stop them, they will do it again."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2015, with the headline ''We will not give in to fear or hate''. Print Edition | Subscribe