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France honours slain teacher as school resumes

  • Published at 01:51 pm November 2nd, 2020
French Prime Minister Jean Castex and Education
French Prime Minister Jean Castex and Education, Youth and Sports Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer attend a homage to slain teacher Samuel Paty at a school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, France November 2, 2020 Reuters

Last Thursday, three people were killed by a knife-wielding man at a church in the southern city of Nice in the latest attack to be labelled an act of "Islamist" terror by the government

France on Monday honoured the teacher beheaded near his school by a suspected Islamist radical as millions of students returned to class after a spate of attacks that have put the country on edge.

Schoolchildren across France observed a minute of silence at 1000 GMT to remember Samuel Paty, who was killed in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, west of Paris, on October 16.

Paty had shown his class cartoons of the prophet Mohammed for a lesson on freedom of expression, sparking an online campaign against him. 

His killing heightened tensions as President Emmanuel Macron spearheads a campaign against Islamist radicalism.

Last Thursday, three people were killed by a knife-wielding man at a church in the southern city of Nice in the latest attack to be labelled an act of "Islamist" terror by the government.

Schoolchildren -- wearing masks because of the coronavirus pandemic -- stood behind their desks or in schoolyards for the minute of silence. 

The gesture was matched at schools in Germany and Greece in a show of solidarity.

'Honour and duty'

Classes in France resumed after the holidays with the country on maximum terror alert and armed gendarmes stationed outside some schools.

"I hope that they (the pupils) will have understood the essential idea that in France there is freedom of expression and when you are not happy with an opinion, you go to a judge. You never take justice into your own hands," teacher Paul Airiau told AFP at the Grange aux Belles college in Paris.

Prime Minister Jean Castex travelled to Conflans-Sainte-Honorine to pay his respects to Paty, saying he had "taught every child of the Republic to be a free citizen." 

"For him, for our country, we will continue. It is our honour and our duty," Castex tweeted.

Macron has vowed to defend the right to freedom of speech after the furore created in many Muslim countries by the republication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in September by satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

It did so to mark the start of the trial of suspected accomplices in the 2015 massacre of its staff by Islamist gunmen.

The trial has been postponed for at least a week after three defendants tested positive for coronavirus.

Following angry protests in the Muslim world over his defence of the right to publish cartoons, Macron told Al-Jazeera television over the weekend that he understood the caricatures could be shocking for some.

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