Family of black Frenchman who died in police custody call for protests

PARIS (Reuters) – The family of a black Frenchman who died in police custody in circumstances similar to the killing of George Floyd in the United States spurned talks with the justice minister and called on Tuesday for more street protests instead.

Adama Traore was celebrating his 24th birthday on July 19, 2016, when three police officers used their weight to restrain him. By the time he arrived at the police station, he was unconscious and could not be revived.

Medical experts differ on whether Traore died because of the restraint or because of an underlying medical condition.

His family demands that the officers involved be held to account and thousands marched in their support in Paris last Saturday. No one has ever been charged with Traore’s death.

“We’re demanding acts of justice, not discussions” Assa Traore, Adama’s sister, told a press conference.”We’ll protest in the streets, every week, if necessary.”

The family and ‘Truth for Adama’ campaign group called for a mass protest in central Paris on Saturday.

Worldwide anger over the killing of Floyd, including in France, has given new momentum to the Traore family’s campaign. Accusations of brutality and racism against French police remain largely unaddressed, rights groups say.

France has at times fallen short in treating all people equally, a founding principle of the Republic, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said after meeting police officers in a Paris suburb. The police must also be shown respect, he added.

Describing the conditions in which Floyd died as “monstrous”, Philippe acknowledged that the worldwide outpouring of emotion “resonated with the fears and feelings of a part of the French population”.

“Collectively, we have not always necessarily been up to the challenge of the Republic’s principles.”

The government said on Monday it was banning a chokehold used to detain suspects and it promised zero tolerance for racism among police.

(Reporting by Lucien Libert and Matthieu Protard; writing by Richard Lough; editing by Nick Macfie and Gareth Jones)

Death stalks French nursing home, where corpses lie in rooms

By Lucien Libert

PARIS (Reuters) – In a nursing home in Paris, bodies have been left decomposing in bedrooms and the smell of death seeps under doors after the coronavirus spread through the overwhelmed facility, according to a care worker there.

The employee at the Jardin des Plantes home, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject, told Reuters some 30 residents – about a third of all the elderly being cared for at the facility – had died since the outbreak struck.

With the city’s undertakers swamped by the wave of COVID-19 deaths sweeping the capital, some corpses had laid in body bags for several days, the care worker said.

“The smell passes under the doors and permeates through the walls,” the care worker said.

“Families would call in the morning, and we’d tell them things were fine. By the evening their relative would be dead and we wouldn’t even have had the time to inform them,” the care worker added, describing how staff had been overrun.

The nursing home is run by Paris City Hall. A spokesman confirmed that the number of deaths had risen above the 21 initially reported on April 7, but could not give a precise figure.

City Hall had been alerted that some corpses were festering inside bedrooms, the spokesman said. Immediate measures had been taken “to limit as far as possible this situation”, he added.

The nursing home declined to comment.

All of France’s care homes are locked down, their 1 million residents in isolation on government orders and cut off from their families.

From Italy to the United States, such homes have emerged as a vulnerable frontline in the global pandemic, with COVID-19 most lethal to the elderly.

PARTIAL DATA

In France, nursing homes do not have to relay data on COVID-19 deaths to the health authorities.

The country’s death count has surged after it began including numbers supplied voluntarily from homes last week, with a third of the 12,210 COVID-19 fatalities nationwide occurring in nursing homes.

A spokeswoman for the regional ARS health authority in the greater Paris area said Jardin des Plantes was among the 40% of France’s 7,400 homes that had not passed on the information.

The care worker said that the home’s 80 staff had lacked face masks, gloves, gowns and shoe covers when the coronavirus first hit. High levels of absenteeism left workers overstretched before reinforcements arrived, including student nurses.

The nursing home declined to respond to questions about protective gear, which has been in short supply in many medical facilities and care homes across the world, particularly in the early stages of the coronavirus crisis.

The Paris City Hall spokesman said the municipality provided all its staff, including those working in homes, with masks.

Earlier this week, as the death toll inside the home rose, all of its surviving residents and staff were tested for COVID-19 after the health ministry changed its protocol.

Previously, as France ramped up testing capacity, the guidance was that the first two suspected cases be assessed.

Asked if the testing had come too late, the City Hall spokesman said the municipality was taking its cue from the ARS.

“We’re approaching the peak so this is a crucial time,” he said. “We’re not too late.”

(Additional reporting and writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

Notre-Dame service a message of hope for France in coronavirus lockdown

By Dominique Vidalon

PARIS (Reuters) – Nearly a year after fire devastated Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, the city’s Archbishop held a small ceremony there to mark Good Friday, praying that Easter’s message of rebirth might bring comfort to a country stricken by the coronavirus pandemic.

Only seven people, including Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit, attended the solemn service in the apse behind Notre-Dame’s Pietà due to the nationwide lockdown across France, but many more watched on their televisions.

“A year ago, this cathedral was burning, causing bewilderment,” said Aupetit, after bowing before a relic of Christ’s crown of thorns that was famously saved from the blaze by a fireman.

“Today we are in this half-collapsed cathedral to say that life continues.”

The world had been “brought down and paralysed by a pandemic that spreads death”, Aupetit said. “As we are going to celebrate Easter, we will celebrate life which is stronger than death, love stronger than hate.”

The prized golden wreath rested on a red velvet pillow placed on an altar in front of a huge golden cross, as Aupetit led the service dressed in crimson vestments.

He and his fellow clerics wore white hard hats as they entered the cathedral, much of which remains a building site, before removing them for the service.

French actors Philippe Torreton and Judith Chemla read texts by Christian writers Charles Peguy and Paul Claudel, while classical violinist Renaud Capuçon provided musical accompaniment.

All three were clad in white jumpsuits and boots to protect them against lead poisoning after the fire left traces of the metal throughout the building.

The one-hour ceremony ended with Chemla singing “Ave Maria”.

It was the second service to have been held in the Gothic church since the April 15 fire.

On June 15, 2019, a mass to commemorate the cathedral’s consecration as a place of worship was held in a side-chapel of Notre-Dame that had been undamaged by the blaze.

The fire destroyed the mediaeval cathedral’s roof, toppled the spire and almost brought down the main bell towers and outer walls before firefighters brought it under control.

President Emmanuel Macron has set a target of five years for restoring Notre-Dame, one of Europe’s most recognisable landmarks. Restoration work has, however, been put on hold by the lockdown that began in France on March 17.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

French police clash with firefighters at Paris demonstration

PARIS (Reuters) – French police clashed on Tuesday with firefighters protesting in Paris against their working conditions and demanding more pay.

Thousands of firefighters attended the protest in the French capital, asking for an increase of their hazard bonus, which has not changed since 1990.

Police fired tear gas and hit some protesters with batons.

In October, firefighters also protested in Paris, calling for better pay, guarantees of their pension benefits and greater respect for their profession.

France has seen widespread labor unrest since December, with unions mobilizing against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to reform the pension system.

(Reporting by Matthieu Protard and Sophie Louet; Editing by Peter Graff)

Nothing ruled out in probe into knife attack at Paris police headquarters

French police and firefighters are seen in front of the Paris Police headquarters in Paris, France, October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

By Matthieu Protard

PARIS (Reuters) – Investigators are not ruling out any hypothesis in their probe into the fatal knife attack at the headquarters of the Paris police, authorities said on Friday.

A 45-year-old IT assistant killed three police officers and an administrative worker inside the Paris police building on Thursday before he was shot dead by an officer.

French media reported that the attacker had converted to Islam 18 months ago. Officials have not said anything about a possible motive for the attack and said they were still trying to discover if there was a terrorism link.

“No hypothesis is being ruled out at this stage,” Paris police chief Didier Lallement said at a news conference. He said he would not respond to further questions on the matter.

The attack took place on the historic Ile de la Cite island in the River Seine, close to Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral.

In the past four years, the French capital has been rocked by violent attacks resulting in mass casualties.

Co-ordinated bombings and shootings by Islamist militants in November 2015, at the Bataclan theater and other locations around Paris, killed 130 people in the deadliest attacks in France since World War Two.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Writing by Matthieu Protard, Editing by Geert De Clercq and Janet Lawrence)

Paris police employee stabs four to death in force HQ before being shot dead

By Simon Carraud and Sudip Kar-Gupta

PARIS (Reuters) – A police administrative worker went on a knife rampage inside the force’s headquarters on Thursday, killing four people before being shot dead by an officer, police officials said.

There was no official word on the motive for the attack, which took place in the heart of the French capital near to Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral.

But Jean-Marc Bailleul, a police union leader, described the incident as criminal rather than an act of terror. “It was a moment of madness,” Bailleul told BFM TV.

The area around the police headquarters was sealed off and the nearest metro station was shut for security reasons, the transport authority said.

President Emmanuel Macron is expected to visit the scene later on Thursday.

A police official and member of the collective “Police up in Anger”, which advocates for better conditions for officers, was quoted by franceinfo radio as saying the assailant had experienced issues with his supervisor.

“I know there were tensions between him and his direct supervisor,” Christophe Crepin told franceinfo. “I do not think this is a terrorist act.”

A police spokesman said he had no comment on the incident.

An official at the prosecutor’s anti-terrorism office said that for now, his office was not leading the investigation.

(Writing by Benoit Van Overstraeten and Christian Lowe; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Notre-Dame toxic fallout lawsuit turns heat on Paris authorities

FILE PHOTO: A view shows the damaged roof of Notre-Dame de Paris during restoration work, three months after a fire that devastated the cathedral in Paris, France, July 14, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) – An environmental protection group has filed a suit alleging lives were deliberately endangered after the fire that ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, saying authorities failed to protect people from lead that spewed into the area.

The April 15 inferno melted hundreds of tonnes of lead in the cathedral’s spire and roof. Unusually high levels of lead were later detected in the air and nearby buildings, including primary schools.

Campaign group Robin des Bois filed a lawsuit dated July 26 against unknown persons, alleging that authorities in Paris were aware the fire had dispersed large quantities of lead into the air and that lead is toxic.

Authorities failed to provide adequate warnings of potential lead poisoning to local residents, tourists and workers on the site before and after the blaze, the suit says.

The authorities’ actions meant there was exposure to toxic fallout and that “lives were deliberately endangered”, Robin des Bois said in its complaint, filed with the Paris prosecutor.

Paris City Hall declined to comment.

The prosecutor will next determine whether the complaint merits deeper investigation.

Health officials have said people living and working in the vicinity of the cathedral were kept informed of risks and safety measures. Nearby residents were advised to wipe down surfaces with a damp cloth.

In June, after unusually high lead levels were detected in a child, pregnant women and young children were invited to get tested for lead levels in their blood.

More than three months after the fire, the Paris prefect suspended restoration work on the cathedral on July 25 until more robust decontamination measures have been put in place. The same day, the mayor’s office temporarily closed a nursery and primary school that were hosting a holiday club for a “deep clean” after high lead levels were detected.

The cathedral’s spire and roof, which collapsed in the fire, contained more than 450 tonnes of lead.

(Reporting by Emilie Delwarde; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Notre Dame fire may have been caused by power fault or cigarette: prosecutors

The Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral is pictured after the first mass since the devastating fire in April, in Paris, France, June 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

PARIS (Reuters) – An electrical fault or a burning cigarette may have been responsible for the fire that gutted Notre-Dame Cathedral, French authorities investigating the cause of April’s blaze said on Wednesday.

Paris prosecutors said that, while they were investigating the possibility of negligence, they currently had no reason to believe the fire was started deliberately.

It ripped through the medieval cathedral on April 15, destroying the roof, toppling the spire and almost bringing down the main bell towers and outer walls before firefighters brought it under control.

“If certain failings, which may explain the scale of the fire, have been brought to light, the investigations carried out to this date have not yet been able to determine the causes of the fire,” said a statement from Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz.

“For now, there are no indications of a criminal origin,” he added. However, nothing had been ruled out, with an electrical fault and a cigarette that was not properly extinguished two of several possible causes being investigated, he said.

President Emmanuel Macron has set a target of five years for restoring Notre-Dame, which dates back to the 12th century and is one of Europe’s most iconic landmarks.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Geert de Clercq and John Stonestreet)

French interior minister warns of yellow-vest riots on Saturday

FILE PHOTO: Protesters wearing yellow vests attend a demonstration during the Act XXI (the 21st consecutive national protest on Saturday) of the yellow vests movement at the financial district of La Defense near Paris, France, April 6, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) – The French interior minister warned on Friday that violence could flare up on the 23rd Saturday of yellow-vest protests, as authorities banned marches around the fire-gutted Notre-Dame cathedral.

The warning comes after weeks of relative calm, with the marches attracting declining numbers as yellow-vest protesters waited for President Emmanuel Macron’s expected response to their various demands which include lower taxes and more government services.

Christophe Castaner, the interior minister, said domestic intelligence services had informed him of a potential return of rioters intent on wreaking havoc in Paris, Toulouse, Montpellier and Bordeaux, in a repeat of violent protests on March 16.

That day, hooded gangs ransacked stores on Paris’s famed Champs-Elysees avenue, set fire to a bank and forced Macron to cut short a ski trip in the Pyrenees.

“The rioters will be back tomorrow,” Castaner told a press conference. “Their proclaimed aim: a repeat of March 16,” he said. “The rioters have visibly not been moved by what happened at Notre-Dame.”

Castaner said that planned marches that would have come near the medieval church on the central island on the Seine river had been banned, while one march from Saint-Denis, north of Paris, to Jussieu university on the Left Bank, had been authorized.

The catastrophic fire at Notre-Dame cathedral on Monday, one of France’s best-loved monuments, prompted an outpouring of national sorrow and a rush by rich families and corporations to pledge around 1 billion euro ($1.12 billion)for its reconstruction.

That has angered some yellow-vest protesters, who have expressed disgust at the fact their five-month-old movement, which started as an anti-fuel tax protest last year, has not received the same generous donations by France’s elite.

“I’m sorry, and with all due respect to our heritage, but I am just taken aback by these astronomic amounts!” Ingrid Levavasseur, one of the yellow vests’ most recognizable public faces, said on her Facebook page.

“After five months on the streets, this is totally at odds with what we have seen,” she said.

The yellow vest movement poses the biggest challenge so far to Macron’s authority two years into his presidency.

The French leader was due to unveil policies to quell the grassroot movement on Monday, before the blaze at Notre-Dame forced him to cancel the speech. He has yet to set a new date for the announcements.

(Reporting by Danielle Rouquié, writing by Michel Rose; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

Man caught walking into New York cathedral with full gasoline cans, lighters: police

FILE PHOTO: People attend Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, December 25, 2013. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

(Reuters) – A 37-year-old man was arrested on Wednesday night after walking into St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City with two full gasoline cans, lighter fluid, and lighters, police said.

The incident occurred two days after a massive fire severely damaged the eight-century-old Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, causing global shock and sorrow. The blaze was most likely the result of an accident though a major investigation is underway.

In New York, the man entered the Roman Catholic cathedral in midtown Manhattan just before 8 p.m. (0000 GMT) and was confronted by a security guard, according to a New York City Police Department (NYPD) official.

As the man turned to leave, gasoline spilled onto the floor and the guard alerted police officers stationed outside.

Officers caught up with the man and he was taken into custody after questioning, said John Miller, deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism for the NYPD.

“An individual walking into an iconic location like St. Patrick’s Cathedral carrying over four gallons of gasoline, two bottles of lighter fluid and lighters, is something we would have grave concern over,” Miller told reporters.

Asked if terrorism was a possible motive in the incident, Miller said it was “too early to say that”. But, alluding to worldwide publicity about the Notre Dame fire, he added: “This is an indicator of something that would be very suspicious.”

Three predominantly African-American churches in Louisiana burned down between March 26 and April 4. A man was arrested and charged with arson and hate crimes.

The man told police he was taking a short cut through the cathedral to get to Madison Avenue from 5th Avenue to return to his van which had run out of gasoline, Miller said.

When police checked the vehicle they found it was not out of fuel, at which point the man was arrested, he said. “He is known to police and we are looking into his background. We don’t know what his mindset was, what his motive was.”

The man, who police declined to identify because he has not been charged, was still in custody early Thursday.

The New York Daily News and other publications, citing unnamed police sources, identified the man as a philosophy professor and a New Jersey resident.

A police spokesman said detectives would discuss the case with the Manhattan district attorney’s office on Thursday morning to decide on possible charges.

St. Patrick’s, a neo-gothic church across from the Rockefeller Center, has stood in the heart of Manhattan since 1879 and is considered one of the most important symbols of the Catholic Church in the United States.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico, Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Mark Heinrich)