France honours victims of Nice terrorist attack

Hundreds of people gathered on Saturday in the French Riviera city of Nice to honour the victims of a attack on Bastille Day that left 86 people dead and hundreds wounded.

"What was hit on the 14 of July was our national unity," French President Francois Hollande said, addressing some 800 victims and family members on a hillside to the east of the Mediterranean bay.

"That is the monstrous target of terrorists: Hit some to scare others. Unleash violence to breed division. Arouse fear to feed distrust and stigmatization. And I say to you: No. This heinous enterprise will fail. Unity, liberty and humanity will, at the end of the day, prevail," Hollande said.

In a solemn hour-long ceremony under a bright blue sky, some 2,500 attendees, including security forces, French politicians, local officials and dignitaries, including Prince Albert of neighbouring Monaco, watched as Hollande reviewed the troops and a military band rendered the national anthem.

Cindy Pellegrini, who lost family members during the attack on July 14, gave a short address, asking, "how to live with these physical wounds, these moral wounds, how to live following the loss of a child, a wife, a husband, a mother, a dad?

"This is what we live with every day since July 14, 2016. Our family members were the joy of life, they demanded nothing other than to live and perpetuate those three principles of liberty, equality and fraternity."

After singer Julien Clerc performed, the names of each of the victims, including 15 children, was read out loud as students from a local secondary school placed white flowers on a plinth. Members of the local philharmonic orchestra performed Bach's Orchestral Suite 3 in D major.

On July 14, Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel ploughed a delivery truck into crowds gathered to see fireworks along the city's seaside promenade. The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility, but investigators have not found a definitive link between the group and Lahouaiej Bouhlel.

The commemoration in Nice was taking place under high security, with most visitors driven up to the site of the ceremony in buses with police escorts.

The attack in Nice came after a string of coordinated shootings and suicide bombings in Paris on November 13, 2015, which left 130 people dead. A number of smaller scale attacks and attempted attacks over the summer, many carried out by people claiming to act in the name of Islamic State, have shaken the country.

In response to the attacks, France has remained in a nationwide state of emergency, which gives police expanded authority to conduct administrative searches. It has also ramped up military efforts against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

While France has increased internal surveillance to tamp down on home-grown radicalization, however, rifts have deepened across the country over how to deal with religious freedom and the French principle of laicite - which loosely translates to secularism.

The ceremony on Saturday in some ways represented a symbolic attempt to suture those divisions. "Everyone demanded this ceremony, the families, the victims, the people of Nice, the city of Nice - which is also a victim," regional president Christian Estrosi and conservative politician told Europe 1.

But not everyone was able to attend. "I have not gone to my job. I am incapable, now, physically, to return to the Promenade des Anglais," Vincent Delhomel-Desmarest, secretary general of the victims' organization, Association Promenade des Anges, told broadcaster iTele.

"Where I worked, there was carnage. Complete chaos. Those moments are still alive."

Last update: Sat, 15/10/2016 - 16:46
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