PARIS — Hundreds of people gathered at Paris' Place de la Republique square in support of teachers and freedom of speech on Sunday, just two days after the brutal beheading of a history teacher at the hands of a suspected Islamist.
At 3 p.m. (1300 GMT), participants clapped for several minutes in solidarity with 47-year-old Samuel Paty, killed in suburban Paris apparently for discussing controversial caricatures of the Muslim prophet Mohammed that originally appeared in satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
"You don't scare us. We are not afraid," Prime Minister Jean Castex, who was also at the rally, wrote on Twitter.
Some carried placards reading "Je suis prof" (I am a teacher), echoing the "Je suis Charlie" slogan that became the rallying cry of marches after a deadly Islamist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.
The brutal attack hits France as it battles a second wave of coronavirus infections. The highest virus warning level applies in Paris, where gatherings of more than 1,000 people are prohibited.
However, the demo, which was organized by the editorial team of Charlie Hebdo, the organization SOS Racisme and teachers' unions, was reportedly officially permitted to go ahead.
"I'm here to defend freedom of expression, freedom of teaching," said 61-year-old protester Muriel, herself a teacher.
Another protester, Valentin, carried a placard displaying the Charlie Hebdo Mohammed cartoons.
"If a teacher is attacked, the republic is attacked," he said.
Sunday's rally was organized by the editorial team of Charlie Hebdo, the organization SOS Racisme and teachers' unions. People also took to the streets of numerous other cities, including Marseille and Bordeaux.
Earlier on Sunday, an 11th suspect — a friend of the suspected attacker — was arrested, but French prosecutors did not give details about how he was linked to the killing.
The victim had shown the images during a lesson on freedom of expression in early October. Images of Mohammed are forbidden in Islam and can cause offence among Muslims.
Their publication led to a deadly Islamist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. Suspects accused of links to those attacks are currently before the courts in a trial that is expected to run until mid-November.
A subsequent series of attacks in France, many claimed by the Islamic State terrorist organization, cost more than 230 lives in 2015 and 2016.
Charlie Hebdo's former office was the site of a cleaver attack just a few weeks ago after it republished some of the cartoons of Mohammed ahead of the ongoing trial.
French President Emmanuel Macron has spoken of an Islamist terrorist act and was due to chair a defense meeting on Sunday.
A state memorial service is due to be held for Samuel Paty on Wednesday.
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