Monday 26 September 2016

'We will not flee and we will not fear them... Paris will unify'

Published 16/11/2015 | 02:30

in Paris

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It's a city that attracts millions of visitors from all over the world. But yesterday it seemed that most tourists wanted nothing more than to get out of the French capital.

The feeling of a ghost town fell over what is normally one of the busiest cities in Europe.

On Friday night, the sound of gunshots and explosions rang out into the night sky. Last night, they were replaced by the flicker of flashes and clicks of shutters.

Instead of photographing the iconic Eiffel Tower or the stunning Notre Dame Cathedral, thousands flocked to photograph bullet holes and bloodstained streets.

They joined the locals who came in great numbers to support the fallen people of their city in a unifying display of solidarity.

It is not the first time Paris has been rocked by such an attack - and many believe it won't be the last.

Standing metres away from her home near the Bataclan theatre, where 89 people were killed, a 60-year-old woman stood hand in hand with her two-year-old grandson and remembered how she almost lost her life in an attack 40 years ago.

"Where does it end? Just where does it end - where does it leave this generation?" she said, pointing towards the blonde-haired blue eyed boy.

"In 1974, I almost died when a grenade was thrown into the Drugstore Saint Germain.

"It was part of the fashionable circuit of restaurants and bars on Paris's Left Bank at the time.

"I had gone inside to get a beer for my boyfriend when a grenade blast ripped through glass, tables and even the people," she said.

"This brought it all rushing back to me. I have lived through three horrible events. What hope is there for my grandchildren? "

The woman described Friday night as a "chaos like I have never seen before".

"My heart goes out to everyone who has to live with this and the family. It never leaves you."

Isil has claimed responsibility for the chilling attack that has left at least 129 people dead, 359 injured and 80 people fighting for their lives. They wanted to "watch the city burn".

They failed. All that burnt in Paris last night was the lights from a thousand candles.

There was an eerie cloud of calm in the air. But a storm of defiance lies ahead.

Standing on the blood-stained street a mere 20 metres away from where her friends were shot down, a young woman explained that they will "fight to the bitter end."

"I live just across the road," she said as a single tear streamed down her left cheek.

Single white rose in hand, Sasha German said that when she heard the first gunshot, she instantly knew the sound.

"This is just two short blocks away from where the 'Charlie Hebdo' offices are. I will remember it until the day I die.

"That day was the first time that I ever heard a gunshot that's how I knew it was gunfire I heard again on Friday," she explained.

"But we will not flee in fear. Yes, they can do this again. Yes, there can be more attacks. But we will not fear them. Paris will unify. We will not flee."

It had been a bustling Friday night in the city. There was something for all on the agenda, young and old.

Music lovers flocked to a rock concert, sports fans to a soccer match, while others met friends over a bite in the city's famous cafés.

It was a night that memories should be made of. It's a night that the world will now never forget.

The street fell silent yesterday, despite the fact that it was filled with some 2,000 people.

Irishman Tim McInerney (29) heard the shots and was barricaded into nearby Michelin star restaurant Septime.

"People say the gunshots sounded like firecrackers. To me, they sounded like metal barrels falling from the sky.

"We didn't know what to do. We rushed out of the restaurant and saw a commotion down at the end of the street.

"Someone who knew what a Kalashnikov rifle sounded like then realised that it wasn't fireworks that we were hearing and everyone rushed back inside.

"We were told to take shelter behind concrete pillars instead of tables because the wooden tables would not stop the bullets. It was just horrible," added Mr McInerney who has been teaching British history in a French university for the last three years.

Last night the city was thrown into panic after a car backfired and sparked a major security concern.

"The mood in Paris now is definitely one of fear," said Mr McInerney.

"Before, with the 'Charlie Hebdo' attacks, there was a purpose, there was a message. With this, they just wanted carnage.

"They just wanted to kill us all."

Irish Independent

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