LEEDS stood in solidarity with France as journalists, members of the French community and city residents gathered in Millennium Square in show of defiance against the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack.
Former journalist and mum-of-two Mireille Mason-Beguin, who now lives in Leeds, organised the vigil and march in memory of the victims of the attacks in Paris last week.
Around 150 people gathered on the steps of Leeds Civic Hall today holding banners displaying the phrase ‘Je Suis Charlie’ - I am Charlie - which has because synonymous in support of those killed in the attack on the French satirical magazine.
Leeds cartoonist William Rudling said he felt he had to be there, as a ”representative of cartoonists everywhere”.
“I was just numbed by what happened,” he said. “As a member of the Cartoonist Club of Great Britain, I can say we will not be silenced by this.”
French nationals from across Yorkshire attended the vigil, including Catherine Bailey, a teacher from Lyon who has lived in Ackworth for 15 years. Her children Orlando, seven, and Olivia, five, made ‘Je Suis Charlie’ banners to take along.
“Freedom of expression is something that we take for granted,” she said. “But we should not be in fear of expressing what we believe in.”
During the gathering, a minute’s silence was held before Mrs Mason-Beguin spoke to the crowd. In a passionate speech, she said the “deep sea of hate” embodied by the terrorists would be washed away by the “deep sea of love” of those who stand against them.
“We are gathered here today under a black flag, but this is not the black flag of intolerance, extremism and hatred. Ours is the flag of mourning, resistance and defiance,” she said. “We are mourning people whose only crime was to exercise their profession.”
After her speech, Eric Scaife, a member of the Yorkshire Dialect Society, shouted “Yorkshire stands with France”, which was met by a round of applause from the crowd. It was a theme echoed by Coun Lisa Mulherin, who said Leeds Council “stood in solidarity” with France. Also present at the rally was the city’s Liberal Democrat group leader, Coun Stewart Golton.
Following the vigil, the group walked up Park Row and down Briggate.
Mrs Mason-Beguin said: “I wanted people to come together to remember the victims, but also to stand against violence and those who want to gag the Western world, to stop us laughing, and stop us having a point of view.
“The attack in Paris was an attempt to stop people expressing themselves.
“I am grateful people have come to defend these values.”
Prime Minister David Cameron, France’s president Francois Hollande and other European leaders stood arm in arm as they led a defiant march through Paris earlier today.
Families of victims were among at least a million people who descended on the city from around the world to show their solidarity with Parisians mourning the deaths of the 17 people killed in this week’s atrocities.
The Leeds vigil was timed to take place at the same time as the march, which saw chants of “Charlie, Charlie” and choruses of the French national anthem.