France’s Interior Ministry said the Paris rally for unity against terrorism on Sunday was the largest demonstration in France’s history — a march organized to show harmony after three days of attacks that left 17 dead.
Calling the rally “unprecedented,” the ministry said the demonstrators were so numerous they spread beyond the official march route, making them impossible to count.
French media estimate up to 3 million are taking part, more than the numbers who took to Paris streets when the Allies liberated the city from the Nazis in World War II.
“It’s a different world today,” said Parisian Michel Thiebault, 70. He was among a crowd wildly cheering police as their vans made their way through the crowd — a sound unheard of at the frequent protests held in France, where police and demonstrators are often at odds.
Their arms linked, more than 40 world leaders headed the somber procession, setting aside their differences for a manifestation that French President Francois Hollande said turned the city into “the capital of the world.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood near Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also marched.
Demonstrations were also held in cities around France and around the world.
The deadly attacks on a satirical newspaper, kosher market and police marked a turning point for France that some compared to Sept. 11. In the weeks and months ahead, the cruelty will test how attached the French — an estimated 5 million of whom are Muslims — really are to their liberties and to each other.
“Our entire country will rise up toward something better,” Hollande said.
The aftermath of the attacks remained raw, with video emerging of one of the gunmen killed during police raids pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group and detailing how the attacks were going to unfold. Also, a new shooting was linked to that gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, who was killed Friday along with the brothers behind a massacre at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in nearly simultaneous raids by security forces.