Chirac gunman in psychiatric ward
PARIS, France -- The far-right gunman who is alleged to have attempted to kill President Jacques Chirac has been committed to a psychiatric hospital.
Maxime Brunerie, 25, who was overpowered after firing a .22 sporting rifle near the president during Sunday's Bastille Day parade in Paris, has told police he hated Chirac and wanted to kill him "to save France", Reuters news agency said.
An inquiry against Brunerie has been launched on the grounds of attempted murder, assistant Paris prosecutor Francois Cordier said.
The move clears the way for a judge to conduct an inquiry in far-right circles. A court-appointed expert will determine whether Brunerie should be spared trial on
the grounds that he was insane at the time of the shooting.
CNN's Diana Muriel said: "Doctors had been assessing Brunerie to see whether he was healthy enough to be interrogated by police, but had decided he was a danger to himself and others."
Brunerie, who has been identified as a member of a group run by a former ally of presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, was known by police for having emotional problems.
The neo-Nazi was arrested after other people in the crowd saw him take a rifle out of a guitar case during the Bastille Day celebrations.
The president, travelling in an open-top vehicle, was between 100 metres and 150 metres away at the time of the incident that happened near the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees, the Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said.
A spectator grappled with the man before police arrived and overwhelmed him.
Chirac has phoned four people thanking them for their intervention, the presidential office has said.
Police are treating the incident as a "one-off" action of a "demented" person, and the case is not being transferred to the anti-terrorist branch.
Nicolas Couteau, of the Force Ouvriere police union told Reuters: "I don't think there was any plot because the shooter would have used a gun of a larger calibre.
"It looks like the act of a demented person."
The suspect is alleged to belong to hooligan groups including a far-right student group, the Groupe Union Defence. He is also reported to be connected to the far-right group of Bruno Megret, a former lieutenant of National Front leader Le Pen.
Government minister, Patrick Devedjian told The Associated Press: "It was an assassination attempt."
"He fired a first shot, which was turned away, then he was overcome and tried to turn the weapon against himself.
"He admitted he wanted to kill the president," added Devedjian, the minister in charge of local liberties, under the interior minister.
Bernadette Chirac, the president's wife, also said "yes, clearly," when asked by reporters if the gunman was trying to kill her husband.
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.
A spokesman for British leader Tony Blair said: "The prime minister was very concerned by news of this incident. Obviously he is relieved that no one was injured."
Meanwhile, Bruno Megret, leader of the far-right National Republican Movement which Brunerie is reported to have stood for in local elections, condemned the attempted attack.
He was quoted by AP as saying his party rejects "all forms of extremism and activism."
Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the National Front and Megret's former boss, also denounced the attack.
Minister Sarkozy told Reuters the shooter had bought the rifle last week by legal means, but had not declared the purchase, as required by law.
It was not immediately clear if the shot came near Chirac or if it went into the air as police converged on the gunman.
A French-Canadian tourist Mohamed Chelali was quoted by Reuters as telling LCI television how he and others helped subdue the suspect: "I saw, two or three metres from me, a man aiming in the direction of the president.
"Someone next to me hit the hand of the shooter while I grabbed hold of part of the weapon, a third took hold of the top of the rifle."
Nobody was injured in the incident and the parade continued in central Paris without further interruption.
It was not known whether Chirac, who had been inspecting troops at the time, had been aware of the gunman. In a television interview after the parade he was not asked about the drama and he did not bring up the subject.
The military parade, a colourful pageant with troops, armoured vehicles and aircraft roaring overhead, is a highlight of celebrations marking Bastille Day.
Bastille Day is the commemoration of the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789, which led to the French Revolution and the end of the monarchy in France.
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