‘Today we are all French’ - Emotional Leeds vigil in memory of Paris victims

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More than 200 people gathered in Leeds city centre today to take part in a solemn and emotional candle-lit vigil in solidarity with the people of Paris.

The hour-long ‘Je Suis Paris’ gathering outside Leeds Town Hall saw members of the city’s French community and other local residents silently place candles and flowers in memory of the victims of Friday’s attacks.

Caitlyn Fleming, 19, from Leeds attending the service.

Caitlyn Fleming, 19, from Leeds attending the service.

Former French journalist and mum-of-two Mireille Mason-Beguin, who now lives in Leeds, was among the organisers of the event and urged those attending to show their “sadness and revulsion towards these despicable acts”.

She told the dozens of people stood next to the pillars of Leeds’s best-known building on The Headrow: “It is essential we show our support and stay strong.”

She added: “We want to show that the values we share in the Western world, but not just in the West, people share the values of liberte, egalite and fraternite.

“Today, to be here, is essential. Last January we organised a vigil for Charlie Hebdo, there were the same numbers or maybe less than today. It is great to see you here today. It is essential we show our support and stay strong.”

Candlelit vigil in Leeds city centre.

Candlelit vigil in Leeds city centre.

One of the attendees, a French teacher at a school in Headingley, read a poem she had written entitled ‘pourquoi’, or ‘why’, to enthusiastic applause.

An English translation of the poem included the lines: “In concert with so many others, their blood will speak, their blood will cry and shout, with one single voice, from the heart, and we will hear and we will understand why.”

As the poem was read out in French, one young man wiped away tears as a woman, equally emotional, clutched his arm. When asked for contributions from the crowd, one man said simply, in French: “Today we are all French.”

Leeds city councillor Asghar Khan told the crowd: “It is heart-breaking. When I heard on the evening my stomach was really upset, I was horrified.

Candlelit vigil in Leeds city centre.

Candlelit vigil in Leeds city centre.

“As a Muslim I sympathise with the people who have been murdered. If you kill one person you have killed all of mankind, and if you save one person, you have saved all of mankind.”

Speaking afterwards, organiser Peter Mason, from Oakwood, said: “We just had to do something. We were just so shocked on Friday night. At that point we weren’t even aware of how bad it was going to be.

“We had a similar shock in January when the editors of Charlie Hebdo we killed. Some people said they should not have insulted the prophet etc. They didn’t justify the killing but were ambivalent about coming to support us.

“Here, we thought no-one can possibly be ambivalent. The terrorists have laid their cards down very clearly. We have been overwhelmed by the support we have had.

“We are very pleased so many Muslims have come down to express their horror and everyone is expressing their solidarity. Leeds had to organise something.

“The core of people who arrived at 4pm for the vigil were French. A lot of people were singing the Marseillaise. A lot of people have attended after that, which is fantastic.”

On Saturday night, Leeds’s First Direct Arena was lit up with the white, blue and red of the French flag in solidarity with the people of Paris. The arena was one of many well-known landmarks around the world lit to match the colours of the Tricolore.

In Skipton, the French restaurant Le Bistro Des Amis collected more than £350 from its customers on Saturday night to send to aid workers providing help to those affected.

Earlier, Leeds city council leader Judith Blake said: “We know there are both many people from Leeds who live in and visit Paris, as well as many French people who are based in Leeds. As a consequence we intend to hold a ceremony in the heart of the city to allow people to express both their sorrow and solidarity.

“We will also work with others to make sure that appropriate support is available to those who may need it and make clear our commitment to standing up to terrorism and violence.”