French President Emmanuel Macron honours the flag-drapped coffin of late Col Arnaud Beltrame in Paris, France, March 28, 2018. Picture: REUTERS
French President Emmanuel Macron honours the flag-drapped coffin of late Col Arnaud Beltrame in Paris, France, March 28, 2018. Picture: REUTERS

Paris — President Emmanuel Macron led national tributes on Wednesday to the gendarme who switched places with a woman hostage during an attack on a supermarket in southern France last week and was killed by the Islamist gunman.

Col Arnaud Beltrame’s heroism has helped reassure a nation left shaken and in mourning after Moroccan-born Radouane Lakdim’s killing spree — an attack that rekindled a debate over how France deals with suspected Islamists.

Tributes began with a minute’s silence in gendarme barracks across France, before Beltrame’s Tricolor-draped coffin was carried into the courtyard of Les Invalides, a former military hospital, where Macron solemnly addressed the nation.

"To accept to die so the innocent can live: that is the essence of what it means to be a soldier," he said. "Others, even many who are brave, would have wavered or hesitated."

After speaking, Macron posthumously awarded Beltrame the Legion of Honour, France’s highest order of merit.

More than 240 people have been killed since early 2015 in France in attacks carried out by Islamist militants or individuals inspired by Islamist groups. Macron said France would prevail with calm against an "insidious enemy".

Reuters

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