Paris Terror Attacks: Paris paused, united in grief, but divided on the call for retribution
Published 17/11/2015 | 02:30
A nation stood silent. Numb with grief. There was no hum of traffic, sirens or car horns blaring. No hustle and bustle.
Just, stillness. A stubborn, all-consuming stillness. At 12pm yesterday, France stopped. Its people reflected. They remembered.
They thought about the bloodshed, they thought about the pain, they thought about what was yet to come.
In the chambers of power, François Hollande, his ministers and the opposition stood unified before bursting into an emotionally-charged chorus of 'La Marseillaise'.
After, the Palais Bourbon was almost shaken to its centuries-old foundations by a rapturous and pride-driven round of applause.
France has had many happy occasions to come together and unite in celebration. It has won world cups and gold medals.
But not until yesterday has there ever been such an impassioned concord between a state and its people. The travesty is that it arose from such atrocity.
As the government was remembering the 132 victims of Friday night's attacks, the people were doing exactly the same thing on the street.
Praying, crying, asking why. It was a busy Monday in Paris, and the city was starting to try and regain some form of normality.
But the fear was still there. On Sunday night, hundreds stampeded through the streets at the sound of a bang that resembled a gunshot.
Thousands of defiant Parisians ignored a five-day ban on public demonstrations, which was imposed by French police and ministers, as they gathered at squares and buildings across the city.
However, a number of vigils were ruined after cars backfiring and firecrackers sent the city into a frenzy.
Outside the Le Carillon restaurant, where 14 people were mercilessly murdered, loud bangs sent people scrambling for cover under cars and in nearby restaurants.
Candles were knocked over, flowers trampled and tables and crockery sent flying in nearby eateries as people fled inside to the back of buildings.
Panic also ensued at areas close by after witnesses reported seeing men with guns, who later turned out to be plain-clothes police officers who were responding to the earlier bangs.
One Irish woman who did not want to be named explained how she ended up in a stranger's apartment.
"Absolute chaos broke out, and it was only a false alarm so I can't imagine what Friday was like when people were getting shot. There was a stampede through the streets. People were being pushed. It was crazy.
"Waiters were pulling people into the restaurants for cover, it was mental. We ended up in this guy's tiny second-floor apartment with about 30 other people.
"He ran out onto the street in just his underpants pulling people in. It was just surreal," she said.
In an historic speech yesterday, president Hollande said Europe will be divided by walls and barbed wire fences again if the issues aren't addressed.
But the city itself remains divided on the current French airstrikes in Syria which have been launched in retaliation for the Paris barbarity. Alice Du Lac (21) was in the Bataclan theatre just an hour before the bullets started to rain.
"It could have been me. That is what everyone is saying now. It could have been me," she said.
"I have lost friends here. It has shaken us all. But I don't know if dropping bombs is going to solve any problems. Where will the hatred end?"
Her words were echoed by wedding dress maker Fabien Bechtel, who said the issues had divided the city.
"It is very much 50/50 at the moment. Half want to blow them all to hell, the others are calling for calmer waters. I lie somewhere in the middle perhaps. I just do not know," he added.
"You can't cure evil with evil. I feel that it was just a message to Islamic State. This airstrike was a message to them that we won't take it anymore. At the same time, it puts us in more danger. Nothing good can come from it."