Obama pays silent tribute to Paris victims at Bataclan
Only minutes before, in the early hours of Monday, the US president had landed at Orly airport to attend a huge climate summit aimed at clinching an international deal to combat global warming.
His first act was to visit the concert hall where, on November 13, jihadists armed with AK47s and suicide vests killed 90 people in the bloodiest of a wave of attacks across the French capital.
Standing in front of the site, Obama stayed silent, moving only to step forward and place a rose among the tributes.
At his right stood French President Francois Hollande, who the US president had received five days earlier at the White House, and next to him, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo.
Obama’s brief visit to the concert hall in the east of the city was not announced in advance due to security concerns which have been heightened since the Paris attacks.
In all, 130 people lost their lives in the killings claimed by the Islamic State group, which also targeted restaurants and bars, and France’s national stadium.
The Bataclan has become a rallying point for those mourning the victims of the Paris attacks, including leaders from Britain, Canada and Chile as well as Irish rock group U2.
Thousands of ordinary people have also come to say goodbye — a stream of grave, incredulous and often tearful visitors passing by day after day.
– ‘Deep desire for peace’ –
Among them was Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who on Sunday laid flowers at the Bataclan.
“Each of these numerous bouquets laid here carries much sadness,” he said in remarks released by Japan’s ambassador.
“But at the same time, it seems to me that these bouquets also show a deep desire for peace and freedom. I hope that such a tragedy, like any other terrorist act, will never be repeated.”
Since that night of terror, the US president has also redoubled his pledge of friendship with France.
Attending the UN climate change summit is “an opportunity to stand in solidarity with our oldest ally, just two weeks removed from the barbaric attacks there,” he said in a Facebook post before taking off from Washington.
Obama received Hollande at the Oval Office last week as part of the French president’s whirlwind diplomatic tour to build support for an international coalition against the Islamic State group.
“Nous sommes tous Francais,” (“We are all French”) Obama said afterwards, referencing the rallying cry of “Je Suis Charlie” adopted after jihadists killed 17 people in Paris in January.
Obama faced criticism for underestimating the strength of feeling after those attacks, which sparked outrage after a dozen people were killed at the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and several others elsewhere in the city.
Almost four million people took part in a march across France in the wake of the killings, attended by some 50 heads of state and government.
But Washington only sent an ambassador, prompting the White House to later issue a rare apology.