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Official: Unity rally largest in French history

Thousands of people make their way down Boulevard Voltaire, from Place de la Republique en route to Place de la Nation, during the Unity Rally following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. French media estimate up to 3 million are taking part. | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

PARIS — The French Interior Ministry says 3.7 million marched throughout France for an unprecedented rally to show unity in the face of terrorism after attacks that killed 17.

The Interior Ministry said that an estimated 2.5 million marched across France in cities and towns Sunday, and between 1.2 and 1.6 million in Paris. But it said a precise account is impossible given the enormity of the turnout in the capital.

Earlier the ministry said it was an unprecedented turnout.

PHOTO GALLERY: France unity rally draws more than 3 million

“It’s a different world today,” said Parisian Michel Thiebault, 70. He was among a crowd wildly cheering police as their vans made their way through the crowd — a sound unheard of at the frequent protests held in France, where police and demonstrators are often at odds.

Their arms linked, more than 40 world leaders headed the somber procession, setting aside their differences for a manifestation that French President Francois Hollande said turned the city into “the capital of the world.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood near Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also marched.

Demonstrations were also held in cities around France and around the world.

The deadly attacks on a satirical newspaper, kosher market and police marked a turning point for France that some compared to Sept. 11. In the weeks and months ahead, the cruelty will test how attached the French — an estimated 5 million of whom are Muslims — really are to their liberties and to each other.

“Our entire country will rise up toward something better,” Hollande said.

The aftermath of the attacks remained raw, with video emerging of one of the gunmen killed during police raids pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group and detailing how the attacks were going to unfold. Also, a new shooting was linked to that gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, who was killed Friday along with the brothers behind a massacre at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in nearly simultaneous raids by security forces.

LORI HINNANT AND THOMAS ADAMSON, Associated Press

Sylvie Corbet, Trung Latieule, Oleg Cetinic, John Leicester and Elaine Ganley contributed from Paris. Aron Heller contributed from Jerusalem.