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France

Paris attacks commemorations show lasting impact on France

media French President Emmanuel Macron and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo release balloons in tribute to the victims of the 13 November 2015 attacks in and around the French capital. Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

France on Monday marked the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks that killed 130 people in and around Paris on 13 November 2015. The commemorations suggest the attacks will continue to have an effect on France for years ahead.

President Emmanuel Macron visited the six sites of the coordinated attacks with a number of officials, including Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and former head of state François Hollande, who was in office when the events unfolded.

Commemorations took them to all of the cafés and restaurants targeted, the Stade de France stadium in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis and the Bataclan concert hall, the site of the deadliest attack.

People then gathered for a tribute organised by survivors and the families of victims.

“Every day I pass by, and every day I cry,” said Diana, 71, who lives near the Bataclan and who lost a friend in the attacks. She told RFI she thinks the anniversary has taken on great significance in France.

“We do not remember 11 November [a holiday marking the end of the First World War in 1918] so well – it’s older, but young people today don’t know the story,” Diana told RFI. “But everyone knows the 13th of November.”

The impact of the Paris attacks was felt beyond France, and the anniversary drew participants from abroad.

“To have this happen to people who were enjoying their lives really offended me, it hurt my heart,” said Randall, 56, an American musician visiting France to pay tribute to the Bataclan victims. “I will come every year to pay my respects to Paris.”

For the hundreds injured and the thousands who were witness to the attacks, moving forward has meant confronting a psychological weight that survivors’ groups say cannot be underestimated.

“Post-traumatic stress has peaks and valleys, and going to work or starting a new job during low periods is very difficult,” explained Arthur Denouveaux, president of the victims association Life for Paris.

“Several hundred people have left their jobs and are wondering if they’ll ever be capable of working again. At the moment, efforts are being made to set up training to help them get back to work.”

Is France a safer place?

Hollande triggered a state of emergency in the wake of the attacks, giving police extended powers to search properties, assign people to house arrest, spy and shut religious and other sites they consider to be advocating violence.

Macron’s administration made many of these permanent with a package of new anti-terror laws that replaced the exceptional measures two weeks ago.

“There is a feeling that France is a safer place today,” says Philippe Moreau Chevrolet, professor of political communication at the Paris Institute of Political Studies.

“The first reason is the political change, the fact that there are new faces in the government, which provokes a positive reaction, and people are more trusting and more willing to listen to the government.”

The government says the measures have allowed police to stop 30 attacks in the past two years, even if others have happened, notably the Bastille Day attack of 2016 that killed 86 people in the city of Nice.

But if there’s a greater sense of security, suggests Moreau Chevrolet, it’s also because the ensuing attacks have removed the shock effect of those that happened in 2015.

“It’s more integrated in our daily lives,” he says. “It’s more common, we’re kind of used to seeing it all the time unfortunately, and it’s sad but that means it’s less shocking.”

Officials also say threats do remain as the Islamic State armed group, which claimed responsibility for the attacks, loses ground in Iraq and Syria.

Hundreds of French citizens who left to join the group are returning home, and there’s very little consensus as to what to do about them.

With reporting by RFI's Stéphane Lagarde

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