(CNN) — Marchers raised pens skyward. They lit candles in the dark. They wrote “liberty” and “free expression” on placards they carried in rallies that came hours after 12 people were killed in a terror attack Wednesday in Paris.
As the initial shock wore off, the central boulevards of most of France’s major cities became scenes of mourning and solemn demonstrations, with marchers declaring themselves unbowed by the attack by two gunmen on the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo. Four of its cartoonists were killed in the gunfire.
“The world has become so sick that (being a humorist or cartoonist) has become a dangerous profession!” said a poster carried by one woman in a mass of protesters in Paris’ Place de la Republique.
Rallies also unfolded Wednesday night in Tours, Toulouse, Brest, Lyon, Rennes and Poitiers, among other cities in France, long regarded as a cradle of democracy and liberty. They were joined by demonstrations elsewhere in Europe, including London, Barcelona, Berlin and Rome.
The most immediate rallying cry against the attack was “Je Suis Charlie,” or “I Am Charlie,” in reference to the weekly satirical magazine’s title, Charlie Hebdo.
Another sign at the rally in Place de la Republique declared: “I stand up and I express myself with words because they are still the most beautiful weapon!”
According to Le Monde newspaper, French police said as many as 15,000 people gathered in the Place de la Republique, which was closed to traffic.
Some demonstrators carried candles that glowed in the darkness. The marchers were mostly silent for the first hour, Le Monde reporter Maxime Goldbaum tweeted, but then began chanting, “Charlie! Charlie! Charlie!” and “We are Charlie!”
One student held a sign at the Paris rally saying, “Long live liberty! Long live France! Long live Charlie!”
Another student, Sacha, told Le Monde newspaper, “We didn’t just come here because of the emotion, but because of the principle. Liberty must be defended.”
Sruthi Gottipati of Paris posted a photograph on her Twitter page of someone lighting a flare at the foot of the monument at Place de la Republique, becoming a mirror image of the nearby statues holding torches.
Another photograph showed several people in the crowd holding aloft a series of illuminated letters in the darkness that stated in English: “NOT AFRAID.”