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French alarm at Chirac gun attempt

Rifle man held
The French reacted with dismay that shots had been fired near the president  

PARIS, France -- French newspapers reacted with disbelief and worry to the alleged attempt to assassinate President Jacques Chirac.

The French press was dominated by news and reaction on Monday to the arrest of a suspected far-right winger after he was alleged to have fired shots at the president as he drove by crowds celebrating Bastille Day.

But some papers, including the pro-Chirac daily Le Figaro, focused on the televised interview he gave after the annual parade commemorating the 1789 French Revolution.

Footage shows Chirac seemingly failing to hear the shots as he continued to wave at the crowds from the open-top vehicle.

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He later acted indifferently when told about the event ahead of a television interview.

He is reported to have said "Oh, really?" when told of the incident, Reuters quoted Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy as saying.

The three interviewers did not bring up the issue during the TV interview after Chirac asked them not to.

Presidential security measures were discussed in the papers.

Shots are believed to have been fired from a .22 calibre rifle, initially hidden in a guitar case, as the president passed within 150 metres near the Arc de Triomphe despite 2,500 police officers being on duty.

Andre Ventre of the Police Commissioners Union told LCI television: "The fault lies in the fact that a maximum of people are let in."

The media also focused on what may have driven the alleged 25-year-old neo-Nazi to fire shots.

Reports said that the suspected marksman, believed to be Maxime Brunerie, ran in last year's local elections as a candidate of the extreme-right National Republican Movement (MNR), an offshoot of presidential hopeful Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front.

He lives with his parents in Courcouronnes, south of Paris.

His neighbours told France 2 television: "He was someone who appeared very calm and kept to himself."

Police were quoted as saying the suspect had a history of emotional and psychiatric problems, and that he belonged to a violent neo-Nazi student movement called Group Union Defence (GUD).

Bruno Megret, leader of the National Republican Movement, condemned the attempted attack.

He was quoted by AP as saying his party rejects "all forms of extremism and activism." Le Pen also denounced the attack

Reuters quoted police as saying Brunerie had admitted to wanting to kill Chirac "to save France" but that his statements were so incoherent as to be considered deranged.

Brunerie is undergoing psychiatric tests.

World leaders reacted with shock to the incident.

Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi gave his "own personal friendship and the solidarity of the Italian people" to Chirac.

The UK's Prime Minister Tony Blair was quoted as telling the Press Association on Monday, after holding talks with French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin at Downing Street: "I would (like to) express my happiness and pleasure that President Chirac escaped unharmed from this incident, which is obviously very regrettable indeed."

He added: "I think the issue was extremely well handled both by the French authorities and by the president."

Raffarin said: "I was deeply affected by this event. Being in high office means you have to banish fear... it demands courage."


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