PARIS - More than 700,000 people took to streets in France Saturday to show their solidarity after three days of bloody attacks in which 17 people died at the hands of Islamic extremists, according to a tally of various demonstrations.

In the southern city of Toulouse, police said around 80,000 people took part in a march, with the ‘enormous’ procession stretching up to two-kilometres, according to an AFP journalist. ‘Live together, free, equal and in solidarity,’ read the banner behind which at least 30,000 people also marched in the western city of Nantes.

In Pau in the southwest, a further 30,000 to 40,000 people staged a silent march with school pupils leading the way holding a banner emblazoned with the words: ‘We are all Charlie’. ‘It's a great popular movement... it's beautiful and significant, infinitely precious,’ the city's mayor Francois Bayrou told AFP. In eastern Besancon, another 20,000 took to the streets, an AFP correspondent said, while in northern Orleans around 22,000 rallied, according to a police source.

In Nice, at least 23,000 demonstrators were counted, police sources said, in a demonstration which snaked for around a kilometre along the famous seafront Promenade des Anglais, ending at the war memorial where a wreath was laid in the presence of representatives of different faiths. A further 22,000 people turned out in northern Lille and thousands more in several other towns and cities across France. The rallies come ahead of a march expected to draw about a million people on Sunday in which French President Francois Hollande will be joined by a host of world leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Others due to participate include Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and US Attorney General Eric Holder. The Prime Ministers of Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, and Turkey will also attend along with the presidents of Mali, Niger and Ukraine. President Hollande will also be joined by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, president of the European Union Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

‘This will be an extraordinary demonstration which must show the power and the dignity of the French people who are going to proclaim their love of freedom and tolerance,’ French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said. Ahead of that mass rally in Paris, hundreds of troops were on Saturday deployed around the city, which is already on the highest possible alert. Following a crisis meeting, the French government announced that all necessary measures would be taken to ensure the safety of those attending.

The three-day killing spree by three Islamic militants ended on Friday following a massive police operation triggered by Wednesday's attack on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in which 12 people were murdered. All three gunmen died in final confrontations with police. France deployed hundreds of troops around Paris Saturday, beefing up security on the eve of a march expected to draw more than a million in tribute to 17 victims of a three-day Islamist killing spree. Fears remained acute and security levels were kept at France's highest level as the girlfriend of one of three gunmen killed in a fiery climax to twin hostage dramas on Friday was still on the loose. But refusing to be cowed, more than 200,000 poured onto the streets in cities across France in poignantly silent marches paying tribute to those killed in the nation's bloodiest week in more than half a century.

The marches across the country were a taste of what was to come in Paris Sunday, where a monster rally will be held for national unity, to be attended by President Francois Hollande and a host of world leaders.

The defence ministry said it was sending another 500 soldiers into the greater Paris area, bringing current numbers to some 1,350 troops. After Friday's dramatic events, Hollande warned grimly that the threats facing France ‘weren't over’, comments followed by a chilling new threat from a Yemen-based Al Qaeda group.

Security forces were focused on hunting down 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene, the ‘armed and dangerous’ partner of Amedy Coulibaly who took terrified shoppers hostage in a Jewish supermarket on Friday, killing four of them. People laid flowers at the shop as a tribute and one woman attached signs to a police barrier reading: ‘Je suis Charlie’ (‘I am Charlie’), ‘I am police’, ‘I am mourning’, ‘I am Jewish.’Before Coulibaly was killed by elite police in a massive assault on the store, he told journalists he was a member of the Islamic State jihadist group. Coulibaly and Boumeddiene are the prime suspects in the murder of a policewoman on Thursday just outside the French capital.  

Moreover, France will deploy some 500 extra military personnel in the greater Paris region, the defence ministry said on Saturday, the day after twin sieges sowed fear on the streets of the capital. ‘We will this morning announce a reinforcement of 500 additional military personnel, in two waves in Ile de France,’ said the ministry, referring to Paris and the immediate surrounding areas.