Heavy security as Sting reopens Bataclan after Paris attacks
'We will never forget them,' singer promises audience, which included survivors of attack
French security turned out in force Saturday night ahead of a concert by British pop legend Sting marking the reopening of the Bataclan concert hall one year after suicidal extremists turned the famed Paris site into a bloodbath.
Hundreds of yards of barricades, extensive body searches and scores of armed police greeted those lucky enough to get a ticket. The Bataclan said all 1,000 Sting tickets sold out quickly and other tickets were given to the families of the 90 revellers slain a year ago by terrorists with automatic weapons and explosive belts.
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Sting, in a T-shirt with a guitar slung over his shoulder, asked concert-goers in fluent French to observe a minute of silence before he opened the show with the song Fragile.
"We will not forget them," the singer said. "Tonight we have two tasks to settle. First, to remember and honour those who lost their life in the attacks. Then, to celebrate life and music."
Several reports say the singer also honoured musicians the world lost this year, including David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen.
He strummed out a string of hits, including Message in a Bottle.
The coordinated attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 last year targeted bars, restaurants and the sports stadium, leaving 130 people dead and hundreds more injured. The worst extremist violence ever to hit France, they were claimed by the Islamic State group.
Some survivors on Saturday stayed outside the Bataclan in quiet vigil, while others inside stood silently sipping a drink, waiting for the concert to start. The smell of fresh paint from the reconstruction hung over the crowd.
'I keep getting flashbacks'
Aurelien Perrin, 25, survived the Bataclan massacre, but his friend Nicolas Berthier did not.
"I came alone tonight. It's very emotional, as I keep getting flashbacks of that night. I was standing just there, just the other side of the bar when it happened. Tonight is the first time I've been back here since," he said.
Perrin added that he had not been to any bar or even the cinema since that fateful night.
"I'm here because it's important to finally finish a concert that was never allowed to end. It's for the memory of my friend and for all the 90 people who died," he said.
Another survivor, Mariesha Jack Payne, waited across the road from the Bataclan in Le Baromètre bar, where she was aided after the attack. She travelled from Scotland for the commemorations in Paris this weekend.
"Even if I'm not inside, it's symbolic for me to be here nearby. The important day is tomorrow. I come back to this bar every time I'm in Paris now," she said.
Sting, 65, is no stranger to the Bataclan, playing there decades ago in 1979 as the lead singer of The Police. The singer's new album 57th & 9th was released Friday.
Sting says proceeds from the concert would go to two charities helping survivors. More than 1,700 people have been officially recognized as victims of the horror that unfolded at the Bataclan, Paris cafés and France's national stadium.
Some could not face returning
Juliette Meadel, the French minister for victims' aid, and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo were among those at the concert.
Some who were invited decided against attending the emotionally charged event.
"I don't want to put a foot in the Bataclan. Even if Sting is a legend. I'm staying with my family tonight," said Jean Marie de Peretti, father of Aurelie de Peretti, who died in the concert hall massacre.
The concert hall — which has been refurbished to its original state — will remain closed on Sunday's actual anniversary of the attacks, when President François Hollande and Hidalgo, the Paris mayor, will unveil plaques in memory of victims at the half-dozen sites where revellers died.
In addition to those killed, nine people remain hospitalized from the attacks and others are paralyzed or otherwise irreparably injured. The government says more than 600 people are still receiving psychological treatment related to the attacks.