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World leaders to march for Paris shooting victims

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Paris was preparing Sunday to host hundreds of thousands of people and more than 40 world leaders for a march honouring the 17 victims killed in the attacks that rocked France this week.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said that the event will show France’s “love of liberty and tolerance” and rejection of terrorism’s intent to “divide us, fracture us.”

The solidarity rally will bring together leaders often at conflict, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Muslim countries were also expected to be strongly represented, amid concerns that the attacks could lead to a backlash in Europe against their religious community.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri told journalists at Cairo Airport on Sunday that the attacks have “nothing to do with religion,” as he prepared to travel to the French capital. He called for comprehensive international cooperation against terrorism.

The three men believed to have carried out this week’s attacks – Cherif Kouachi, Said Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly – told a French broadcaster that they acted on behalf of radical groups, including al-Qaeda in Yemen and the Islamic State.

The Kouachi brothers have been blamed for killing 12 people on Wednesday at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which was known for its caricatures of the prophet Mohammed.

Coulibaly, who knew Cherif Kouachi, is thought to have shot dead a policewoman in southern Paris on Thursday, followed by four hostages at a Jewish grocery store in the capital on Friday.

Officials say it was the bloodiest attack on France in 50 years.

The three suspects were shot dead by police on Friday, after carrying out separate hostage-takings. Coulibaly’s companion, who was also sought by police, is still on the run. Hayat Boumeddiene, 26, is thought to have made her way to Syria, French media reported.

The greater Paris region remains on high security alert, with thousands of security forces deployed on Sunday.

The 3-kilometre march is due to get underway at 3 pm (1400 GMT). It will be led by the families of the victims, the AFP news agency reported. The heavily guarded foreign dignitaries are expected to participate for only part of the march.

Solidarity rallies are also expected in many other French cities. More than 700,000 people took to the streets throughout the country on Saturday, in a first wave of events.

Ahead of the Paris march, President Francois Hollande met with representatives from the Jewish community. He had described Coulibaly’s hostage-taking at the kosher grocery store as a “dreadful anti-Semitic act.”

European interior ministers were also holding talks in Paris on Sunday morning, along with US Attorney General Eric Holder, on how to better address the threat of radicalism. They were expected to issue a joint statement. SAPA

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