Notre-Dame fire: Eight centuries of turbulent history

There were gasps from the crowd at the moment Notre-Dame’s spire fell
There were gasps from the crowd at the moment Notre-Dame’s spire fell

The grief caused by the near-destruction of Notre-Dame may seem puzzling for a country as resistant to religion as France.

But the mass devotion the cathedral attracts is not a spiritual one. It is rooted in the building’s location at the heart of the nation’s intellectual life.

Notre-Dame dominates the Latin Quarter – named after the language spoken by the scholars and students that flocked there in medieval times. Just down the river are the Louvre, a royal palace turned into the world’s largest museum, and the grand building of the Institut de France, the country’s foremost learned society.

Since the 16th Century bibliophiles have wandered among the bookstalls that line the banks of the Seine in the cathedral’s shadow.

Bouquiniste in Paris (undated picture)
A tour of the waterside “bouquinistes” is one of Paris’s great pleasures

The English-language bookstore Shakespeare and Company lies across the Petit Pont to the south This is where Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and other giants of world literature have come to imbibe French culture, along with more liquid delights in the many cafés nearby.

Notre-Dame seems to have grown naturally from its surroundings. Its soaring towers provide a focus of attention in a city that fancies itself as the capital of high culture; the eminent British art historian Kenneth Clark once called it “the most rigorously intellectual facade in the whole of Gothic art”.

Kenneth Clark on Notre-Dame: 'I recognise civilisation when I see it'
Kenneth Clark on Notre-Dame: ‘I recognise civilisation when I see it’

The cathedral is linked with Paris’ emergence as a centre of learning. The Gothic building – built over a century from the 1160s – replaced a Romanesque structure that was home to the “École cathédrale”.

France’s first celebrity philosopher, Pierre Abélard, had taught logic and theology there in the early 12th Century, attracting admirers from all over Europe.

The new church maintained this legacy of scholarship. In due course the “École cathédrale” morphed into the University of Paris, the Sorbonne and its offshoots, which all still stand a few minutes’ walk away.

The history of Notre-Dame, however, is more turbulent than its current, majestic appearance suggests.

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Notre-Dame before the fire in 360° image


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The cathedral played a role in the Hundred Years’ War: in 1431, King Henry VI of England was crowned there as King of France to assert English claims to the throne across the Channel.

From the 16th Century, Notre-Dame fell victim to France’s political and religious strife, as well as changing cultural tastes.

Renaissance men sought to break away from the medieval period and rediscover the cultural treasures of ancient Greece and Rome. Gothic was out. Classical was in. Internal pillars and walls were covered with tapestries, as if its custodians were ashamed of them.

France’s fierce wars of religion took their toll on the cathedral. In 1548 Huguenot Protestants attacked statues which they regarded as sacrilegious.

In 1572 the future Henri IV, a Huguenot who sought to end the bloodshed, married Marguerite de Valois, a princess from the ruling Catholic dynasty. The wedding was celebrated in front of Notre-Dame – although Henri did not go so far as to enter the building.

1857 drawing of NOtre Dame

But the symbolic reconciliation on the cathedral’s doorstep did not last long. Within days thousands of Protestants who had come to Paris to attend the wedding were slaughtered by Catholics in the infamous St Bartholomew’s Day massacre.

The Enlightenment was not kind to Notre-Dame either. In the 18th Century, it was more out of step with the prevailing intellectual mood than at any other time in its history.

A masterpiece of Gothic art held no appeal to thinkers who equated the medieval period to the Dark Ages and were deeply suspicious of the Roman Catholic Church.

The clergy themselves did not seem to care much for the building. In the early 1750s, some felt the cathedral was too dark and decided to replace the stained glass window with clear glass to let in more light. A few years later sculptures above the main portal were knocked down to make it easier for processions to pass through.

By the 1780s, the 13th Century spire was beginning to look wobbly. The authorities fixed the problem by taking it down.

Gallery of Kings at Notre Dame
The statues of kings on the facade were decapitated during the revolution

Things got even worse for the cathedral during the French Revolution. The Church, loathed by many as the ally of the Ancien Regime, and taken over by the state.

Church bells were removed across the country. In 1791, those of Notre-Dame were crushed and melted down. In 1793, the 28 statues of kings that stand above the front portals of Notre-Dame were decapitated by rioters.

Later that year religion was banned outright and the cathedral was converted into an atheist “Temple of Reason” dedicated to Enlightenment and Revolutionary ideals.

When it turned out that the worship of liberty, equality and fraternity did not fill pews, the cathedral was turned into a warehouse for storing food.

The Coronation of Napoleon by Jean-Louis David
The Coronation of Napoleon at Notre-dame was painted by Jean-Louis David

Notre-Dame was not returned to the Catholic Church until 1802, after Napoleon Bonaparte made peace with the Vatican.

It was spruced up in time for Napoleon to be crowned emperor there in 1804, with Pope Pius VII in attendance.

He chose the venue over the cathedral in Reims, where French kings were traditionally crowned, to indicate a clean break with the Old Regime. Paris, not Reims or Versailles, was the centre of his world and Notre-Dame was at the centre of it.

But imperial favour did not revive the fortunes of the cathedral. In the first two decades of the 19th Century many medieval buildings were regarded as antiquated eyesores.

Some were pulled down, others were submitted to botched-up restoration work. Notre-Dame itself did not seem safe from the wrecking ball.

Esmeralda and Quasimodo, illustration by Eugene Deveria for the novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
Notre-Dame was saved by a humble hunchback

But another swing of the cultural pendulum changed everything. The Romantic movement turned against grand, Roman-inspired architecture, and rediscovered the messy beauty of the Middle Ages. Classical was out. Gothic was in.

No-one did more to save Notre-Dame than Victor Hugo. In a 1825, the young writer published an angry tract “on the destruction of the monuments of France”. “The hammer that mutilates the face of France must be stopped,” he wrote.

But it was his hugely popular 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame – simply “Notre Dame de Paris” in French – that was most effective. By portraying the building as a character, Hugo literally brought it back to life.

A nationwide campaign led to a massive renovation project. The work, between 1844 and 1864, returned the cathedral to its former glory – and more.

Notre-Dame gargoyle
Many of Notre-Dame’s gargoyles are 19th Century additions

Lead architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc used traditional building methods to secure the buttresses and put up a new spire, the one destroyed by fire this week.

Sculptors repaired the beheaded sculptures. Glassmakers and other craftsmen restored the original decoration from drawing and engravings.

Where these were not available, Viollet-le-Duc and his artists used their imagination. Many of the medieval-looking gargoyles and monsters crawling all over the cathedral are their creations.

In the 1850s and 1860s Baron Haussmann carried out a vast urban renewal programme that made Paris the city of wide boulevards and distinctive stone buildings it is today.

The hospital and cluster of smaller buildings that had stood in front of Notre-Dame for centuries were cleared. They were replaced by a wide-open space – known as the “parvis” – creating a sense of distance and grandeur.

Notre-Dame in 1900

It the 20th Century Notre-Dame witnessed a succession of traumas – from two world wars to the 1968 unrest literally a cobblestone’s throw away – but it escaped unscathed.

It also became a focus for historical ceremonies. This is not inconsistent with France’s secular constitution – under the 1905 law on separation of Church and state, all cathedrals are property of the French government.

An official Mass was celebrated there to mark the end of World War One. Following the liberation of Paris from the Nazis in August 1944, General de Gaulle attended a similar service after marching with his troops down the Champs-Élysées.

As the general stepped out of his car, sustained gunfire rang out on the parvis, causing panic among the crowd. De Gaulle walked into the cathedral and took his seat without batting an eyelid. No-one knows to this day who fired the shots.

Charles de Gaulle at Notre-Dame, 25 August 1944
Charles de Gaulle (in uniform, centre) took part in a Mass celebrating the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944

When de Gaulle died in 1970, a memorial service attended by heads of state from around the world was held at Notre-Dame. François Mitterrand, who died in 1996, was the only other former French president to be honoured in the same way.

But the best sign of Notre Dame’s significance is not the odd official event, but the homage of 13 millions visitors every year – more than any other site in Western Europe.

Notre-Dame stands tall as a symbol of permanence. The fire shocked Parisians because it showed that such a fixture in their physical and cultural landscape was vulnerable. But the cathedral has also shown its power for renewal in difficult times.

Notre-Dame was already undergoing renovation work when the fire broke out

France Notre-Dame fire: Temporary wooden cathedral proposed

A temporary wooden cathedral should be built in the shadow of Notre-Dame’s famed towers while the building is being repaired, officials have said.

The structure would serve as a home for worshippers and tourists alike, the rector of the Paris landmark, Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, suggested.

The 850-year-old Gothic cathedral has been closed after a fire tore through its roof and destroyed its spire.

French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed it will reopen in five years.

But temporary arrangements will need to be made in the meantime, Monsignor Chauvet told France’s CNews.

“We mustn’t say ‘the cathedral is closed for five years and that’s it’,” he said.

“Can I not build an ephemeral cathedral on the esplanade [in front of Notre-Dame]?” he added.

The wooden structure, Monsignor Chauvet said, should be “beautiful, symbolic and attractive”.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is understood to have given her approval to the idea, which is not the first of its kind.

After the cathedral in New Zealand’s Christchurch was destroyed in a 2011 earthquake, which left 185 people dead, a temporary structure was built.

Meanwhile, some in France have reacted negatively to the government’s plan to invite architects from around the world to submit their designs for a new spire.

Notre-Dame before the fire in 360° image.

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The spire, which was added to the cathedral during a 19th Century restoration project led by French architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, was completely destroyed when the fire took hold on Monday.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told reporters on Wednesday he hoped for “a new spire that is adapted to the techniques and the challenges of our era”.

But Mr Philippe questioned “whether we should even recreate the spire as it was conceived by Viollet-le-Duc… or if, as is often the case in the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre-Dame with a new spire”.

Jean-Marie Henriquet, 76, a descendant of Mr Viollet-le-Duc, said it needed to be rebuilt.

“Not reconstructing the spire would equate to amputating an element that belongs to it,” he told news agency AFP.

What is the damage?

The blaze, which began on Monday evening and was not fully extinguished until almost 15 hours later, destroyed most of the cathedral’s roof and led to the collapse of its famous spire.

Firefighters have used a drone to survey the scale of the destruction.

A before, during and after photo
The cathedral’s spire before and during the fire, then after it had collapsed

Photos appear to show that at least one of the famed rose windows survived, but there are concerns for some of the other stained-glass windows. The 18th Century organ has not been burned but it is not clear if it is damaged.

It was still too early to estimate the cost of the damage, said the Fondation du Patrimoine, an independent non-profit heritage group.

The main structure, including the two bell towers, was saved in a time window of 15 to 30 minutes by a team of 400 firefighters, Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nuñez said.

But on Thursday, Culture Minister Franck Riester revealed there were still fears over the possible collapse of some parts of the building – including a gable between the bell towers, as well as one in the north transept.

Graphic showing scale of damage to Notre-Dame
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What happens next?

Investigators trying to establish the cause of the fire have begun questioning workers from five companies involved in the renovations that were under way at the cathedral. Officials believe the works could have accidentally led to the disaster.

Offers of help to rebuild the cathedral have come from several world leaders, groups and individuals, including:

  • Billionaire François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of the Kering group that owns the Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent fashion brands, who pledged €100m
  • Bernard Arnault’s family and their company LVMH, a business empire which includes Louis Vuitton and Sephora, who pledged €200m
  • French cosmetics giant L’Oreal and its founding Bettencourt family promised to give €200m while oil giant Total pledged €100m

Mr Riester said some of the artworks and religious items rescued would be sent to the Louvre museum where they would be kept and eventually restored.

A look inside fire-ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral
A look inside fire-ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral

They include what is said to be the crown of thorns worn by Jesus before his crucifixion and a tunic King Louis IX is said to have worn when he brought the crown to Paris.

Work to remove the cathedral’s paintings will begin on Friday, Mr Riester said.

INTERA CTIVE Inside Notre Dame

15 April 2019

Debris of the fallen spire inside Notre Dame

26 June 2018

Looking down on people attending a service of mass in the cathedral
A before, during and after photo
The cathedral’s spire before and during the fire, then after it had collapsed
Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad who was held by Islamic State fighters in Iraq for three months is to address the UN Security Council on Tuesday

Germany struggles in UN push to address sexual violence

A German-led bid to step up efforts to combat sexual violence in conflicts has run into resistance at the UN Security Council, diplomats said Wednesday, just days before Nobel laureate Nadia Murad is to appear before the UN body to issue a call for justice.

Germany is pushing for the adoption of a draft resolution next Tuesday during a council debate that will feature Nobel Peace Prize winners Denis Mukwege and Murad, a Yazidi human rights activist.

Murad, who was held by the Islamic State fighters for months after they overran her home town in northern Iraq in 2014, is expected to call on the council to take action against perpetrators of sexual violence.

The German-drafted resolution would establish a working group of the Security Council that would develop measures to address sexual violence and strengthen prevention, according to the draft text seen by AFP.

It would encourage commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions set up by the United Nations to address rape and other sexual crimes in their investigations of human rights violations in war zones.

The measure would also urge UN sanctions committees to apply targeted sanctions against rapists and other perpetrators of sexual violence.

UN diplomats said negotiations on the text were complicated, with Russia, China and the United States raising objections.

Russia has questioned the need for the working group while the United States has taken aim at references to the International Criminal Court, which it does not support, and those that deal with reproductive health for rape survivors, according to diplomats.

“There are several outstanding issues with the United States, Russia and China,” said a diplomat.

Some council members argued that the working group could undermine the UN envoy for sexual violence, Pramila Patten, who has been tasked by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres with stepping up action to prevent the use of rape as a weapon of war.

France, which backs the German draft, had proposed that there be an alert mechanism set up for cases of mass rape during conflicts.

Notre-Dame fire: International call for architects to design new spire

France is to invite architects from around the world to submit their designs for a new spire to sit atop a renovated Notre-Dame cathedral.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told reporters they hoped for “a new spire that is adapted to the techniques and the challenges of our era”.

The spire was completely destroyed in the blaze that tore through the 850-year-old Gothic building’s roof.

The entire cathedral was minutes away from total destruction, officials say.

However, much of the Parisian building – including its famed towers – survived, and thoughts have now turned to how to reconstruct what has been lost.

President Emmanuel Macron vowed it will be rebuilt “even more beautifully”, adding that he wants the work done within five years – although experts warn its reconstruction could take decades.

The spire destroyed in the blaze was added to the cathedral during a 19th Century restoration project led by French architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc.

But Mr Philippe questioned “whether we should even recreate the spire as it was conceived by Viollet-le-Duc… or if, as is often the case in the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre-Dame with a new spire”.

Meanwhile, a copper statue of a cockerel – a symbol of France – that topped the spire was recovered from the rubble, the culture ministry said. It was “battered but apparently restorable”, a spokesman added.

So far, €800m ($902m; £692m) has already been pledged by a number of companies and business tycoons to help rebuild the Unesco World Heritage site.

Mr Philippe promised “every euro paid for the construction of Notre-Dame will serve this purpose and nothing else”, while also announcing a tax reduction for those donating towards the reconstruction.

The cause of the fire is unknown but an investigation is under way.

What is the damage?

The blaze, which began on Monday evening and was not fully extinguished until almost 15 hours later, destroyed most of the cathedral’s roof and led to the collapse of its famous spire.

Firefighters have used a drone to survey the scale of the destruction.

A before, during and after photo
The cathedral’s spire before and during the fire, then after it had collapsed

Photos appear to show that at least one of the famed rose windows has survived but there are concerns for some of the other stained-glass windows. The 18th Century organ has not been burned but it is not clear if it is damaged.

It was still too early to estimate the cost of the damage, said the Fondation du Patrimoine, an independent non-profit heritage group.

Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nuñez said the structure was in good condition “overall” but that “some vulnerabilities” had been identified in the stone vaults and the remainder of the ceiling.

The main structure, including the two bell towers, was saved in a time window of 15 to 30 minutes by a team of 400 firefighters, he said.

In his speech Mr Macron heaped praise on the fire services, saying they took “extreme risks” to tackle the blaze.

Graphic showing scale of damage to Notre-Dame
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What happens next?

Investigators trying to establish the cause of the fire have begun questioning workers from five companies involved in the renovations that were under way at the cathedral. Officials believe the works could be linked to the disaster.

“Nothing indicates this was a deliberate act,” said public prosecutor Rémy Heitz, adding that he expected to be a “long and complex” case.

Offers of help to rebuild the cathedral have come from several world leaders, groups and individuals, including:

  • Billionaire François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of the Kering group that owns the Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent fashion brands, who pledged €100m
  • Bernard Arnault’s family and their company LVMH, a business empire which includes Louis Vuitton and Sephora, who pledged €200m
  • French cosmetics giant L’Oreal and its founding Bettencourt family promised to give €200m while oil giant Total pledged €100m

Culture Minister Franck Riester said some of the artwork and religious items rescued would be sent to the Louvre museum where they would be kept and eventually restored.

Notre-Dame fire: International call for architects to design new spire
A look inside fire-ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral

They include what is said to be the crown of thorns worn by Jesus before his crucifixion and a tunic King Louis IX is said to have worn when he brought the crown to Paris.

Work to remove the cathedral’s paintings will begin on Friday, Mr Riester said.

Ludovic Marin, AFP | Roses have been laid near Notre-Dame-de Paris Cathedral a day after a fire devastated the cathedral in central Paris on April 16, 2019.

We will rebuild’: Macron vows to retore Notre-Dame within five years

President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild Notre-Dame “even more beautifully” within five years, as all of France’s cathedrals prepared to ring their bells on Wednesday to mark 48 hours since the colossal fire began.

The blaze on Monday gutted the great Paris landmark destroying the roof, causing the steeple to collapse and leaving France reeling with shock.

Emmanuel Macron announced the fast timescale for restoration — a process some experts said would take decades — in an address to the nation where he hailed how the disaster had shown the capacity of France to mobilise and unite.

Pledges worth around 700 million euros ($790 million) have already been made from French billionaires and businesses to restore the Gothic masterpiece.

An unknown number of artefacts and paintings have been lost and the main organ, which had close to 8,000 pipes, has also suffered damage.

But the cathedral’s walls, bell towers and the most famous circular stained-glass windows at France’s most visited tourist attraction remain intact.

Macron’s defiant comments indicated he wants the reconstruction of the cathedral to be completed by the time Paris hosts the Olympic Games in 2024.

“We will rebuild the cathedral even more beautifully and I want it to be finished within five years,” Macron said from the Elysee Palace. “And we can do it.”

Macron said that the dramatic fire had brought out the best in a country riven with divisions and since November shaken by sometimes violent protests against his rule.

“Our history never stops and that we will always have trials to overcome,” he added.

The bells of all cathedrals in France will sound at 6:50 pm (1650 GMT) on Wednesday, 48 hours after the fire started.

‘Saved in half an hour’

Images from inside the cathedral showed its immense walls standing proud, with statues still in place and a gleaming golden cross above the altar.

However the floor was covered in charred rubble from the fallen roof and water while parts of the vaulting at the top of the cathedral had collapsed.

Junior interior minister Laurent Nunez told reporters at the scene that work to secure the structure would continue into Thursday, allowing firefighters access to remove remaining artefacts and artworks.

He said the building had been saved within a critical time window of 15-30 minutes by a team of 400 firefighters who worked flat out through the night.

Though “some weaknesses” in the 850-year-old structure had been identified, overall it is “holding up OK”, he added.

Renovation work on the steeple, where workers were replacing its lead covering, is widely suspected to have caused the inferno.

Investigators interviewed witnesses and began speaking with employees of five different construction companies that were working on the monument, said public prosecutor Remy Heitz.

“Nothing indicates this was a deliberate act,” Heitz told reporters, adding that 50 investigators had been assigned to what he expected to be a “long and complex” case.

A public appeal for funds drew immediate support from French billionaires and other private donors as well as from countries including Germany, Italy and Russia which offered expertise.

French billionaire Bernard Arnault and his LVMH luxury conglomerate, rival high-end designer goods group Kering, Total oil company and cosmetics giant L’Oreal each pledged 100 million euros or more.

Support came from outside France as well, with Apple chief Tim Cook announcing the tech giant would give an unspecified amount.

But experts had warned a full restoration will take many years.

“I’d say decades,” said Eric Fischer, head of the foundation in charge of restoring the 1,000-year-old Strasbourg cathedral.

Treasures evacuated

Thousands of Parisians and tourists watched in horror Monday as flames engulfed the building and rescuers tried to save as much as they could of the cathedral’s treasures.

Many more came Tuesday to the banks of the river Seine to gaze at where the roof and steeple once stood.

A firefighter suffered injuries during the blaze, which at one point threatened to bring down one of the two monumental towers on the western facade of the cathedral that is visited by 13 million tourists each year.

The Holy Crown of Thorns, believed to have been worn by Jesus at his crucifixion, was saved by firefighters, as was a sacred tunic worn by 13th-century French king Louis IX.

Rescuers formed a human chain at the site of the disaster to evacuate as many artefacts as possible, which were then stocked temporarily at the Paris town hall.

Notre Dame fire – updates: Paris cathedral could take decades to be rebuilt after ‘tragedy with a European dimension’

Millions pledged to help restoration work as world reacts to devastation

The fire which devastated, Notre Dame cathedral, thought to have been caused by an accident rather than arson, the public prosecutor has said, as investigators work to establish what led the centuries-old architectural masterpiece to be consumed by flames.

Wealthy French benefactors have pledged hundreds of millions of euros to rebuild the famous building after its roof and spire were ravaged by the blaze.

However, architects have warned the work to repair the building could take decades.

Pope Francis and Queen Elizabeth II have led a global outpouring of grief for the cathedral, as work begins on assessing the damage following firefighters’ 14-hour battle to extinguish flames.

Donald Trump has expressed condolences to French president Emmanuel Macron over the Notre Dame fire during a phone call on Tuesday and offered US assistance in the rehabilitation of the cathedral, the White House said.
“Notre Dame will continue to serve as a symbol of France, including its freedom of religion and democracy,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “We remember with grateful hearts the tolling of Notre Dame’s bells on 12 September, 2001, in solemn recognition of the tragic 11 September attacks on American soil. Those bells will sound again.”

Historic England has offered to support France’s efforts to restore Notre Dame Cathedral.
Chief executive Duncan Wilson said: “We are shocked and devastated by the terrible fire at Notre Dame de Paris and the extent of damage to one of the most beautiful buildings in Europe – a symbol of France and an extraordinary example of Gothic architecture. “We are in contact with friends and colleagues in France and stand ready to offer any support that might assist in the challenging work that lies ahead to secure Notre Dame and plan for its future.”

Opinion: Notre Dame shows the raw power of cathedrals – just as the far right tries to hijack Christianity

Extremists are increasingly using the church as a symbol of a white immigrant-free Europe that must be salvaged at all costs

Queen Elizabeth’s oldest son, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, said he too was “utterly heartbroken” to learn of the fire. Charles, who has expressed strong feelings about protecting traditional architecture, said in a message to Mr Macron: “I realise only too well what a truly special significance the cathedral holds at the heart of your nation; but also for us all outside France it represents one of the greatest architectural achievements of Western Civilisation.”
He added: “It is a treasure for all mankind and, as such, to witness its destruction in this most dreadful conflagration is a shattering tragedy, the unbearable pain of which we all share.”

Queen Elizabeth has sent a message to French president Emmanuel Macron to say she was deeply saddened by the fire which engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral and that her prayers were with all of France, Buckingham Palace said. “Prince Philip and I have been deeply saddened to see the images of the fire which has engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral,” Queen Elizabeth’s message said. “I extend my sincere admiration to the emergency services who have risked their lives to try to save this important national monument. “My thoughts and prayers are with those who worship at the Cathedral and all of France at this difficult time.”

Czech president Milos Zeman is offering France the expertise and assistance of leading Czech specialists.
In a letter to his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, Mr Zeman said the Czech Republic is, like France, a country with many Gothic and medieval historic buildings and palaces. Mr Zeman said “the fire of Notre Dame affects us all”. Mr Zeman offered teams of top restoration experts that work at Prague Castle, the historic seat of Czech presidency, which includes St Vitus Cathedral, a Gothic architectural masterpiece. Czech prime minister Andrej Babis said his country is also ready to send France financial assistance.

French interior minister Christophe Castaner said there are still some risks that may endanger the structure of Notre Dame Cathedral.
Mr Castaner told reporters after a brief visit to the cathedral it is “under permanent surveillance because it can still budge”. He added that state employees will need to wait 48 hours before being able to safely enter the cathedral and take care of the art works that are still there. Some were too big to be transferred. Mr Castaner said: “We will be standing at [Notre Dame’s] bedside.”

Our shock at the damage to Note Dame is “to do with the sudden and gaping loss of something we assumed was permanent”, writes architecture critic Jay Merrick

The burning of Notre Dame is proof that truly great architecture has a hallucinatory power.

Bells at churches and cathedrals across England are to be rung in solidarity with France, Downing Street has announced.

The bells at Westminster Abbey will toll at 5.43pm this evening to mark the moment the fire began.

Other churches and cathedrals across the country will follow suit on Thursday.

Theresa May said the gesture would “underline our solidarity with France and her people”.

Experts from Historic England are also coordinating with colleagues across the UK heritage sector to make an offer of support to their French counterparts once the damage has been assessed.

The prime minister said: “Notre Dame is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world – a symbol of France and the French people, and cherished across the globe. The images of destruction we saw last night were truly heart-rending.

“President Macron has pledged to rebuild the cathedral and I have conveyed to him that the UK will support this endeavour however we can.

“When it comes to the task of rebuilding, French craftsmen and women are among the finest in the world. As they prepare to embark on this daunting task, we stand ready to offer any UK experience and expertise that could be helpful in the work that lies ahead to restore this magnificent cathedral.”

French energy company Total has pledged €100m (£87m) towards Notre Dame repairs, bringing the total amount of funding offered by businesses and tycoons to more than €600m (£519m).

The oil and gas giant said it would donate “to help the construction of this architectural jewel”.

L’Oreal, the French cosmetics firm, has pledged to give the same amount to rebuild “a symbol of French heritage and of our common history.”

Rival billionaire fashion tycoons Francois-Henri Pinault and Bernard Arnault, earlier pledged €100m and €200m (£174m) respectively.

Emmanuel Macron to hold a full day of cabinet meetings fully dedicated to the aftermath of the fire tomorrow.

The French president’s office said a morning session would be followed by another in the afternoon focusing on the national fund-raising campaign and reconstruction work. 

Mr Macron is to speak by phone with Pope Francis later today. 

He has postponed a speech and a news conference aimed at responding to the yellow vest crisis for an indefinite period, to respect “a moment of great national emotion.”

Mr Macron was initially planning to announce measures this week addressing the concerns of anti-government protesters. 

The French Bishops’ Conference says that the bells of all cathedrals across the country will ring on Wednesday at 6.50pm, the time when the fire started on Monday.
On Tuesday the Bishops’ Conference said in a statement that this will show the solidarity of all dioceses toward Paris and said the fire at Notre Dame “is a shock that affects far beyond just the Catholics of our country.”
France has 103 Catholic cathedrals.

French interior minister Christophe Castaner has arrived at Notre Dame to see the damage caused by the fire and speak to firefighters who worked to extinguish the blaze.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has said the company will donate to help restore Notre Dame.

French firefighters have sent a drone over Notre Dame to survey the damage caused by the blaze.

Denis Jachiet, deputy bishop of the cathedral, said there would be no Easter celebrations in Notre Dame this year.
He said: “It’s impossible to enter into the cathedral so these religious celebrations will take place in other churches. “For the religious I think there is really an invitation to prayer and the internalisation of this situation.” He continued:The fire department told us that they at first tried to confine this blaze, it was impossible to put it out – no human could have done that. But it was certainly possible to contain it. They battled to contain it to preventing from spreading from the interior of the spire. They succeeded in saving the tower and therefore saved the facade. The bishop said the emergency services had worked through the night to remove works of art and take them to safe keeping. I feel the greatest sadness for this disaster. In around one hour it destroyed something that had spanned almost nine centuries.

European Council president Donald Tusk said the message of encouragement to France after the Notre Dame Cathedral fire should be that “it’s not the end of the world” and that the damage will be repaired.
Mr Tusk told Polish reporters in Strasbourg after a European Parliament debate on Brexit it was the duty of all Europeans and all Poles to give France courage after this “dramatic” event. Recalling his native Poland’s efforts to rebuild its cities, many reduced to rubble, after the Second World War, Mr Tusk said his compatriots “have the right and the duty to say – ‘You will manage, this is not the end of the world'”.

French cosmetics group L’Oreal, along with owners the Bettencourt Meyers family and a linked charitable foundation, have said they will donate €200m (£172m) for repairs to the Notre Dame Cathedral.

The director of Unesco has said expert work must be carried out immediately to protect Notre Dame Cathedral’s remaining structure.
Audrey Azoulay said it is too early to say whether the treasured rose windows of Notre Dame are unscathed because art experts have not been able to study the site yet. She said the first 24-48 hours are crucial to protecting the stone and wood structure from water damage and assessing next steps. She warned parts of the cathedral remain “extremely fragile”, notably hundreds of tonnes of scaffolding set up around the cathedral spire that collapsed. She said Notre Dame has “a particular place in the world’s collective imagination”. Notre Dame is part of a Unesco heritage site that includes the surrounding quais and islands, and Unesco has offered its expertise to help rebuild.

Jean-Marc Fournier, the chaplain of Paris fire brigade, has been hailed as a hero entering the burning Notre Dame cathedral to recover the famous Crown of Thorns.

Mr Fournier insisted on being allowed to enter the edifice with fire fighters and played a role in the relic’s rescue, according to Philippe Goujon, mayor of Paris’s 15th district.

The chaplain’s bravery had previously been noted after the November 2016 Bataclan terror attack, when he tended to the injured at the music venue and prayed over the dead.

Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” has rocketed to the top of the bestseller list of Amazon in France in its original version. 
Meanwhile, the English translation of the 1831 novel is also number one in sales in the category of historical fiction. 
Telling the story of Quasimodo, a deformed bell-ringer of the cathedral in the 15th century, the book helped rally support for Notre Dame’s massive renovation later in the 19th century. 
Campaigning for the preservation of the cathedral, Hugo described it as crumbling and marked by “countless defacements and mutilations,” contributing to alert the public about the issue. 

British defence secretary Gavin Williamson has responded to MPs’ concerns that parliament could suffer a similar fate to Notre Dame.

Politicians including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had urged for the Paris blaze to act as a warning over the crumbling Westminster estate.

Mr Williamson said: 

It is important that the investment is made in the parliamentary buildings to ensure such a thing doesn’t happen again.

That is why it is the right thing to do to be making the investments that are in order to ensure that such an iconic building such as the Palace of Westminster isn’t vulnerable to fire as well.

I think that the House authorities have been very clear in terms of their commitment to making this happen.

I know that you see around parliament today a vast amount of investment that’s already been undertaken in order to be able to ensure that the work that needs to be done to Parliament is being done to Parliament.

With what Andrea (Leadsom, Leader of the House) is doing in terms of leading that restoration and renewal, the right attitude and the right approach has been taken by the house authorities.

The chief architect of Cologne cathedral has predicted it could take decades to repair the damage Notre Dame cathedral.

Peter Fuessenich, who oversees all construction work for the Gothic cathedral in the German city, told broadcaster RTL on Tuesday that “it will certainly take years, perhaps even decades, until the last damage caused by this terrible fire will be completely repaired.” 

Cologne cathedral was heavily damaged during World War II and work to repair it is still ongoing more than 70 years later. 

Fuessenich called the fire in Paris “a tragedy with a European dimension” as many churches and cathedrals across the continent were inspired by buildings in France. He said “when the last stone was set in Notre Dame, the first one was laid here in Cologne, and in this respect it affects us all very much.” 

The timbered roof of Cologne cathedral’s was replaced with an iron frame during the 19th century, meaning a fire there would be less devastating. 

All of the “most precious” treasures in Notre Dame were rescued, says French culture minister Franck Riester.

Some of them will be placed in the Louvre as early as today.

Mr Riester told a press conference: 

First of all the treasures, the most precious ones, were saved last night and stored at the Hotel de Ville in Paris, and I’d like to thank the town hall of Paris, and also the teams of ministry of culture, the fire officers and also everyone who really tried to save the crown (of thorns) and various other treasures.

Some of them will also be placed in the Louvre today or tomorrow, as soon as possible. As far as the major paintings, they will in fact only be withdrawn from Notre Dame probably on Friday morning.

They have not been damaged but there could be some damage from the smoke so we are going to take them safely and place them in the Louvre where they will be dehumidified and they will be protected, conserved and then restored.

A number of parts of Notre Dame’s structure “have been identified as particularly vulnerable” but “what remains of the roof should hold”, France’s culture minister Franck Riester has said.

Architects and firefighters have this morning been assessing damage to the cathedral.

Mr Riester said the structure was largely still “sound” and large paintings, despite suffering some fire damage, were mostly still intact.

Artworks salvaged from Notre Dame cathedral are to be transferred to Paris’s Louvre museum, the French culture minister has said.

My colleague Simon Calder has taken a look at the implications of the fire for the city’s tourism industry, and you can read that Here.

British MPs have warned the Palace of Westminster is at risk of a “huge” fire on the scale of the blaze which has devastated Notre Dame.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the inferno in Paris should act as a warning over the crumbling state of buildings in Westminster, which are in need of multibillion-pound restorations.

He said: “You can see the majesty and beauty of that building and to see it destroyed is devastating, I think, for everybody in Paris and indeed around the world, because you see beautiful buildings like that and think of the beautiful buildings we’ve got in this country.

“If any of those were destroyed in fire, how would we feel about it?”

Politicians have acknowledged that action is needed to safeguard the Houses of Parliament but have spent years wrangling over the best way to proceed.

A “restoration and renewal” programme is not expected to start in earnest until the mid-2020s after MPs and peers voted in early 2018 to leave the historic building to allow the work to be carried out.

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who sat on a joint committee of parliamentarians from both Houses which examined the issue, said: “We have taken far too long already putting our fire safety measures in place.

“Parts of the Palace are as old as Notre Dame and we must make sure that every fire precaution is taken as the major work goes ahead. God knows we’ve had enough warnings.”

The joint committee noted in a 2016 report that “a substantial and growing risk of either a single, catastrophic event, such as a major fire, or a succession of incremental failures in essential systems which would lead to Parliament no longer being able to occupy the Palace”.

Queen Elizabeth II has sent a message to French president Emmanuel Macron, saying she was “deeply saddened to see the images of the fire which has engulfed Notre-Dame Cathedral” and extending her “sincere admiration to the emergency services”. 

She added: “I extend my sincere admiration to the emergency services who have risked their lives to try to save this important national monument.

“My thoughts and prayers are with those who worship at the Cathedral and all of France at this difficult time.”

Newspapers around the world splashed images of the Notre Dame inferno on their front pages today. Cyril Petit, an editor at Le Journal du Dimanche, tweeted this mosaic of international coverage: 

Two police officers and one firefighter were “lightly wounded” during the nine-hour effort to extinguish the blaze, Paris’s fire brigade has said.

More than 400 firefighters were involved. 

Officials previously said, that one firefighter had been seriously injured. 

Twelve construction workers involved renovating Notre Dame’s renovation at time of the fire have already been interviewed by French police, reports Le Monde.

Forty detectives have been deployed to collect witness testimonies as they look to establish what caused the blaze.

Police said last night they had opened an investigation into “involuntary destruction by fire” and did not believe the flames were started deliberately.

The first images taken in today’s morning light have revealed the extent of the damage to Notre Dame cathedral, writes my colleague Chiara Giordano:

First dawn images show scale of damage to Notre Dame cathedral.

Emmanuel Macron has suspended campaigning for the European elections following the Notre Dame fire. 

French politician Nathalie Loiseau, who is spearheading the campaign for the president’s LREM party, said the decision had been taken to mark this “moment of extreme sadness”. 

The campaign has been halted “until further notice”, she tweeted.

#French President Macron postpones TV address amid Notre-Dame fire

French President Emmanuel Macron has postponed an important address to the nation that was to lay out his responses to the yellow vest crisis because of the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Macron was planning to announce on Monday evening a series of measures after three months of a national debate that encouraged ordinary people to propose changes to France’s economy and democracy.

Instead he headed to the scene of the fire,

The French presidency didn’t reschedule the speech yet.

When he does speak, Macron is expected to respond to protesters’ concerns over their loss of purchasing power with possible tax cuts and measures to help retirees and single parents.

Other proposed changes could affect France’s democratic rules. Some observers say Macron may open up the possibility that citizens could propose referendums.

The French leader has repeatedly said he won’t reintroduce a wealth tax on the country’s richest people   one of the protesters’ major demands.

The yellow vest movement prompted by a fuel tax hike in November, has expanded into a broader revolt against Macron’s policies, which protesters see as favoring the rich and big businesses. Their protests, which often turned violent, especially in Paris, provoked a major domestic crisis that sent Macron’s popularity to record low levels.

Still, the number of demonstrators has been falling in recent weeks.

Most yellow vests leaders have urged supporters not to take part in Macron’s national debate, saying they did not believe the government’s offer to listen to the French. Ingrid Levavasseur of the yellow vests published an open letter Monday called “M. President, don’t play the illusionist.” She demanded measures to boost purchasing power and maintain public services.

Macron has already made concessions, but they failed to extinguish the anger of the yellow vest movement. In December, he abandoned the fuel tax hike, scrapped a tax increase for retirees and introduced a 100-euro ($113) monthly bonus to increase the minimum wage, a package estimated at 10 billion euros ($11.5 billion).

President Macron has pledged the cathedral will be rebuilt

Notre-Dame cathedral: Macron pledges reconstruction after fire

French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild the medieval cathedral of Notre-Dame after a major fire partially destroyed the Paris landmark.

Firefighters managed to save the 850-year-old Gothic building’s main stone structure, including its two towers, but the spire and roof collapsed.

The fire was declared under control almost nine hours after it started.

The cause is not yet clear but officials say it could be linked to extensive renovation works under way.

Paris prosecutor’s office said it was currently being investigated as an accident. A firefighter was seriously injured while tackling the blaze.

Macron: ‘Terrible tragedy’

Visiting the site on Monday night, Mr Macron said the “worst had been avoided” with the preservation of the cathedral’s main structure as he pledged to launch an international fundraising scheme for the reconstruction.

“We’ll rebuild this cathedral all together and it’s undoubtedly part of the French destiny and the project we’ll have for the coming years,” said Mr Macron.

“That’s what the French expect [and] because it’s what our history deserves,” he added, visibly emotional, calling it a “terrible tragedy”.

Billionaire François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of the Kering group that owns the Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent fashion brands, has already pledged €100m (£86m; $113m) towards rebuilding Notre-Dame, AFP news agency reports.

The French charity Fondation du Patrimoine is launching an international appeal for funds for the cathedral, a Unesco World Heritage site.

French President Emmanuel Macron: “We will rebuild this cathedral”

The fire started at around 18:30 (16:30 GMT) on Monday and quickly reached the roof of the cathedral, destroying its stained-glass windows and the wooden interior before toppling the spire.

Firefighters then spent hours working to prevent one of the iconic bell towers from collapsing. Search teams are now assessing the extent of the damage.

Sections of the building were under scaffolding as part of the renovations and 16 copper statues had been removed last week. Work began after cracks appeared in the stone, sparking fears the structure could become unstable.

Mr Macron said the cathedral was “for all French people”, including those who had never been there, and praised the “extreme courage” of the 500 firefighters involved in the operation.

Mayor: ‘Artwork in safe place’

Emergency teams managed to rescue valuable artwork and religious items, including what is said to be the crown of thorns worn by Jesus before his crucifixion, which were stored inside the cathedral built in the 12th and 13th centuries.

A tunic, which King Louis IX is said to have worn when he brought the crown of thorns to Paris, was also saved.

“We had a chain of solidarity, especially in saving the works of art… [They] were able to be saved and put in a safe place,” said Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. “This is a tragedy for the whole world… Notre-Dame is the entire history of Paris.”

Historian Camille Pascal told French broadcaster BFMTV that “invaluable heritage” had been destroyed. “Happy and unfortunate events for centuries have been marked by the bells of Notre-Dame. We can be only horrified by what we see.”

Damaged parts of cathedral
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A symbol of a country

No other site represents France quite like Notre-Dame. Its main rival as a national symbol, the Eiffel Tower, is little more than a century old. Notre-Dame has stood tall above Paris since the 1200s.

It has given its name to one of the country’s literary masterpieces. Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is known to the French simply as Notre-Dame de Paris.


The last time the cathedral suffered major damage was during the French Revolution. It survived two world wars largely unscathed.

Watching such an embodiment of the permanence of a nation burn and its spire collapse is profoundly shocking to any French person.

Reaction: ‘France is crying’

Thousands of people gathered in the streets around the cathedral, observing the flames in silence. Some could be seen openly weeping, while others sang hymns or said prayers.

Several churches around Paris rang their bells in response to the blaze, which happened as Catholics celebrate Holy Week.

“Notre-Dame is burning, France is crying and the whole world, too. It is extremely emotional,” Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit said.

The Vatican expressed “shock and sadness” while UK Prime Minister Theresa May described the fire as “terrible”.

Unesco said it stood “at France’s side to save and restore this priceless heritage” visited by almost 13 million visitors each year, more than the Eiffel Tower.

INTERACTIVE Notre-Dame cathedral fire


Image of Notre Dame with the tower missing


Image of Notre Dame with the tower on fire

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel called the Notre-Dame a “symbol of French and European culture”.

US President Donald Trump said it was “horrible to watch” the fire and suggested that “flying water tankers” could be used to extinguish the blaze.

In an apparent response, the French Civil Security service said that was not an option as it might result in the collapse of the entire building.

Because of the fire, Mr Macron cancelled a speech on TV in which he was due to address the street protests that have rocked France for months.

#Notre-Dame cathedral: Firefighters tackle blaze in Paris

A major fire has engulfed one of France’s most famous landmarks – the medieval Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris.

Firefighters are battling to save the 850-year-old Gothic building, but its spire and roof have collapsed.

The cause is not yet clear, but officials say that it could be linked to renovation work.

A Paris fire official said the main structure had now been “saved and preserved”.

The Paris prosecutor’s office said it has opened an inquiry into “accidental destruction by fire.”

Loud bangs could be heard as flames burst through the cathedral’s roof, also destroying its stain-glass windows.

All efforts are now being put into saving the cathedral’s artwork and preventing the collapse of its northern tower.

Thousands of people have gathered in the streets around the cathedral, observing the flames in silence. Some could be seen openly weeping, while others sang hymns or said prayers.

Several churches around the French capital have been ringing their bells in response to the blaze.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who has arrived at the scene, said his thoughts were with “all Catholics and all French people.”

“Like all of my countrymen, I am sad tonight to see this part of us burn.”

The fire department said a major operation was under way

Mr Macron had earlier cancelled an important TV speech to the nation because of the fire, an Élysée Palace official said.

A spokesman for the cathedral said the whole structure was “burning”.

“It remains to be seen whether the vault, which protects the cathedral, will be affected or not”, he said.

INTERACTIVE Notre-Dame cathedral fire


Image of Notre Dame with the tower missing


Image of Notre Dame with the tower on fire

Historian Camille Pascal told French broadcaster BFMTV the fire was destroying “invaluable heritage.”

“For 800 years the Cathedral has watched over Paris”, he said.

“Happy and unfortunate events for centuries have been marked by the bells of Notre Dame.

“We can be only horrified by what we see”.

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo urged people to respect the boundaries set up by fire crews in order to ensure that they remain safe.

“There are a lot of art works inside…it’s a real tragedy,” she told reporters.

No other site represents France quite like Notre-Dame. Its main rival as a national symbol, the Eiffel Tower, is little more than a century old. Notre-Dame has stood tall above Paris since the 1200s.

It has given its name to one of the country’s literary masterpieces. Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is known to the French simply as Notre Dame de Paris.

The last time the cathedral suffered major damage was during the French Revolution. It survived two world wars largely unscathed.

Watching such an embodiment of the permanence of a nation burn and its spire collapse is profoundly shocking to any French person.

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People watch the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral burning in central Paris on April 15, 2019
The cathedral is visited by millions of people every year

“I have a lot of friends who live abroad and every time they come I tell them to go to Notre-Dame,” eyewitness Samantha Silva told the Reuters news agency.

“I’ve visited it so many times, but it will never be the same. It’s a real symbol of Paris.”


US President Donald Trump suggested “perhaps flying water tankers” could be used to extinguish the fire.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has offered her support to the people of France, calling Notre-Dame a “symbol of French and European culture”.

“My thoughts are with the people of France tonight and with the emergency services who are fighting the terrible blaze at Notre-Dame cathedral”, UK Prime Minister Theresa May said in a tweet.

The Vatican has said news of the fire has caused “shock and sadness,” adding that it was praying for the French fire services.

The Notre-Dame cathedral, a popular tourist attraction, was undergoing renovations after cracks began to appear in the stone, sparking fears the structure could become unstable.

Last year, the Catholic Church in France appealed for funds to save the building.

Graphic showing location of spire

Facts about Notre-Dame

  • The church receives almost 13m visitors each year, more than the Eiffel Tower
  • It was built in the 12th and 13th Centuries and is currently undergoing major renovations
  • Several statues of the facade of the Catholic cathedral were removed for renovation
  • The roof, which has been destroyed by the blaze, was made mostly of wood.
Are you in the area? Did you witness the fire? Email,
Watching the cathedral go up in flames is deeply upsetting for the locals

What Notre-Dame means to the French

No other site represents France quite like Notre-Dame.

Its main rival as a national symbol, the Eiffel Tower, is little more than a century old. Notre-Dame has stood tall above Paris since the 1200s.

It has given its name to one of the country’s literary masterpieces. Victor Hugo’s novel Hunchback of Notre-Dame is known to the French simply as Notre Dame de Paris.

The last time the cathedral suffered major damage was during the French Revolution, when statues of saints were hacked by anti-clerical hotheads. The building survived the 1871 Commune uprising, as well as two world wars, largely unscathed.

It is impossible to overstate how shocking it is to watch such an enduring embodiment of our country burn.

Locals are not famous for their sunny disposition, but few can walk along the banks of the Seine in the central part of the capital without feeling their spirits rise at the majestic bulk of Notre-Dame.

It is one of the few sights sure to make a Parisian feel good about living there.

What Notre-Dame means to the French
The major operation to try to save the building

Like all cherished places everywhere, it is not one residents visit very often. In the three decades I spent in my native city, I can’t have been inside Notre-Dame more than three or four times – and then only with foreign visitors.

There are many of those. The cathedral is not just the most popular tourist site in Western Europe. Eight centuries after its completion, it is also still a place of worship – about 2,000 services are held there every year.

But it is also much more than a religious site. President Emmanuel Macron has expressed the shock of a “whole nation” at the fire. As Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said, Notre Dame is “part of our common heritage”.

Many of those looking on as flames engulf the building are in tears. Their dismay is shared by believers and non-believers alike in a nation where faith has long ceased to be a binding force.

The spire was quickly engulfed in flames

Images of the blaze at Notre-Dame in Paris

A massive fire has engulfed the Parisian landmark of Notre-Dame, bringing down the cathedral’s spire and roof.

Firefighters have surrounded the iconic 12th Century building, famed for its stained glass, flying buttresses and carved gargoyles.

Crowds of Parisians and tourists looked on as the flames took hold.

Scene of blaze in Paris
The spire was quickly engulfed in flames
Scene of blaze in Paris
An image of the steeple taken last year, contrasted with Monday’s blaze
Scene of blaze in Paris
Scene of blaze in Paris
Scene of blaze in Paris
Scene of blaze in Paris
Scene of blaze in Paris
Scene of blaze in Paris
Firefighters tackle the blaze as dusk draws in
Scene of blaze in Paris
The extent of the blaze could be seen from a huge distance
Before and after at Notre-Dame
Scene of blaze in Paris
The damage to the iconic building will have a lasting impact on the French people
Scene of blaze in Paris

All images subject to copyright

Clashes erupt in yellow vest protests as Macron prepares policy response

TOULOUSE (Reuters) – Yellow vest demonstrators clashed with riot police in the French city of Toulouse on Saturday, even as President Emmanuel Macron prepared a series of policy announcements aimed at quelling 22 consecutive weekends of anti-government protests.

Police in the southeastern city fired teargas and arrested 23 people after several hundred demonstrators threw objects and set fire to cars, motorbikes, a construction cabin and rubbish bins.

Protesters also tried to enter areas of the city from which they had been banned.

Altogether between 5,000 and 6,000 protesters had gathered on the Allee Jean Jaures, a wide avenue in the city center, and on nearby side streets.

Activist groups had said on social media networks that Toulouse would be the focus for the 22nd round of demonstrations, prompting city mayor Jean-Claude Moudenc to express concern ahead of Saturday’s protests.

Marches in Paris and elsewhere were largely peaceful by late afternoon, though police detained 27 in the French capital. Minor clashes broke out near the port in Marseille.

The interior minister estimated a total of 31,000 protesters demonstrated across France, 7,000 more than on the previous Saturday but fewer than the several hundred thousand who took to the street during the first weeks of demonstrations.

The protests continue to put pressure on Macron, who has vowed to announce a series of measures aimed at easing discontent.

The protests, named after the high-visibility safety jackets worn by demonstrators, began in November to oppose fuel tax increases.

The movement quickly morphed into a broader backlash against Macron’s government, despite a swift reversal of the tax hikes and the introduction of other measures worth more than 10 billion euros ($11.3 billion) to boost the purchasing power of lower-income voters.

In response to rioting that in December made parts of Paris resemble war zones, Macron launched a two-month consultation that included a series of town hall meetings across the country. He is due to introduce resulting policy measures early next week.

Ahead of next week’s announcements, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe this week presented the conclusions of the consultation, saying it had highlighted demands such as quicker tax cuts, action to address climate change, and more balanced relations between Paris and the provinces.

Yet given the array of sometimes contradictory yellow vest demands the government is unlikely to please all those who demonstrated on Saturday. Some are already preparing a 23rd round of protests next Saturday.

#Emmanuel Macron has united his country – against him

An embattled, incompetent leader distrusted and disliked by a vast majority of voters. A wobbly economy that might be tipped into recession by Brexit. A re-energised opposition. Huge street protests. Squabbling with European partners. The government is paralysed, the opposition is emboldened — and the nation stands humiliated, as the world looks on in horror wondering how a leader who was so popular two years ago could get things so wrong.

Not Theresa May, but Emmanuel Macron, the politician who may be the greatest Brexiteer of them all. As the saga of British withdrawal enters its final chapter, Macron has emerged as the loudest advocate for pushing Britain out the door, deal or no deal, consequences be damned.

Why does he behave in this way? Wouldn’t France suffer even more from a no-deal Brexit? But to understand his rage, you need to understand the depth of the hole in which he now finds himself.

It’s now common for Brits to consider themselves the laughing stock of Europe. To be sure, the Westminster drama is embarrassing — but it could be worse. We could be France. Just two years ago, Macron was seen as the great centrist hope not just of France but of Europe. The country’s youngest ever president was elected aged 39¾ to the near unanimous approval of European bien pensants. He promised to drag France out of political, economic and social sclerosis, to see off the menace of populism, sack half a million supernumerary functionaries and make France great again.

He quickly discovered that reform of a state riddled with clientelism and protectionism is easy to talk about but difficult if not impossible to achieve. His predecessors made the same discovery.

His domestic failure has been spectacular and comprehensive. The suburbs are in turmoil and Macron’s vaunted reform project has ground to a halt. The legions of civil servants remain in place, many recently revealed to work less than 35 hours a week. State spending accounts for a gargantuan 58 per cent of the economy, with the highest taxes in Europe to pay for it all. Enterprise is crushed by further taxes on employment, which can double the cost of hiring a worker. Tax cuts are promised but undelivered and cannot be without inflating the alarming deficit or cutting back the state.

The French have had enough. The opinion polls are striking. Macron is now the most unloved leader in Europe, by a distance, according to the YouGov Eurotrack survey. Among Britain, Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, Macron has achieved a clean sweep, finishing dead last in every category.

Do you approve of the government’s record to date? Seventy-six per cent of French voters disapprove. Do you think the financial situation of your household will change over the next 12 months? By a four-to-one ratio, they think it will get worse. Has the financial situation of your household changed in the past 12 months? Half say it has got worse, or a lot worse. How do you think the country’s economy has changed in the past 12 months? Fifty-seven per cent say it’s worse or a lot worse. A different poll found 75 per cent of French agree that Macron can be referred to as a ‘president for the rich’.

The trajectory of the Macron project has been a case study in hubris. He has taken green politics and tested them to destruction. His putting up of fuel taxes last year while cutting the wealth tax was a manoeuvre so ill-judged as to beggar belief: it seems to show his contempt for those priced out of the cities, who live in provincial areas where they need cars. His diesel tax and carbon tax was the proximate cause for spawning the gilets jaunes movement, which is still bringing cities to a standstill every Saturday. His explanation that fuel prices had to rise to counter climate change cut little moutarde with voters.

France has now had 21 consecutive weekends of demonstrations and riots in which thousands have been arrested, hundreds injured, many gravely, and ten killed. The frequent brutality of the police, relayed instantly on social networks, has been condemned by Amnesty International and the UN. The physical damage has cost hundreds of millions. The reputational hit has been much worse.

Invest in France? Hopes of attracting many bankers from Brexit island have gone up in flames, along with the Porsches on the Avenue Kléber. Macron’s response has been to denounce protesters as ‘enemies’ of the state, and to impose new laws suppressing ‘fake news’. It’s easy to understand his allergy to reporting outside the usually obedient conventional channels.

Sanctimonious he may be, but Macron’s probity is in as much doubt as his competence. His clumsy efforts to cover up a scandal in his inner circle, involving a handsome young bodyguard of North African origin, now fired, but apparently still in touch with Macron’s circle, have shaken even some of the normally complaisant Paris press corps.

And now there’s his latest project, to launch his ambitious ‘EU Renaissance’, a largely inchoate big idea that has strikingly failed to resonate with French people, who have truly not a clue what he is talking about and whose own deeply eurosceptic views are ignored. Having failed to reform France from Paris, he seems to imagine that his reborn EU might do the job for him, delivering the country from 40 years of stagnation.

With Europe as his standard, Macron’s fightback has been unconvincing. For several weeks, France has been treated to the embarrassing spectacle of his great national debate, launched to distract attention from the insurgency of the gilets jaunes. Hailed as a great exercise in consultative democracy, it’s been more of a monologue. He has toured the country, not debating, not listening, but talking, talking, talking, sometimes for three hours with nary a pause. Not even his handpicked audiences could feign rapt attention.

Tellingly, one subject almost entirely excluded from the agenda of this so-called debate was Europe. Macron has never had any intention of consulting the voters on this subject, and for good reason. The French are among the most eurosceptic voters in Europe. They rejected the European constitution in 2005 by 55-45 per cent. (The constitution was subsequently relabelled a treaty and imposed regardless.)

It is a curiosity that Macron remains deeply admired abroad, notably by the Economist, whose Paris correspondent practically worships him, and the New York Times, which has annointed him the anti-Trump. The Washington Post has even swooned over his marriage — a triumph for feminism, apparently. But in France, even those who intend to vote for his list in the forthcoming European parliamentary election will hold their noses.

As his economic reforms have ground to a standstill, and his attempts to buy off the gilets jaunes have pushed France’s debt to the very edge of 100 per cent of GDP, Macron now faces two further tests. Neither may work out for him. It is ironic that if Brexit is thwarted, only Nigel Farage is likely to be more disappointed than Macron. The second is the May election, in which he risks humiliation.

Faced with opposition from a barmy extreme left and toxic extreme right, Macron’s candidates may yet emerge with the largest number of seats. The received wisdom is that as much as voters do not like Macron, many will not stomach the alternative. (It is a particularly French expression of democracy that a politician can win an election with a 14 per cent approval rating.)

Or maybe not. Voters who would otherwise vote for Macron as the lesser of two evils in a presidential election may be less scrupulous in a contest for the European parliament. The gilets jaunes are more likely to be motivated to vote, and Macron’s base may not be large enough to push him over the line. Whichever camp is able to declare victory, France is inevitably going to return a large number of eurosceptic MEPs, and with allies from across Europe, they are going to make Macron’s renaissance a mission impossible.

Whither the boy wonder? Macron’s obsession with European federalism has not just alienated him from voters, but has irritated his most important ally, German chancellor Angela Merkel. Germany wants nothing to do with Macron’s proposed fiscal union. Why should Germans pay France’s debts? And lately, she has been especially alarmed by his inflammatory anti-British rhetoric. Macron might imagine that for the cause of his renaissance it’s essential to push the British out into the cold as soon as possible, deal or no deal. Merkel is listening to German industrialists, especially car makers, who call the UK ‘treasure island’.

The prospect of a messy Brexit scares plenty of people in France, too. Officials in the north, closer to the UK than Paris, are in open rebellion. French farmers and fishermen are spooked by the potential loss of markets and fishing rights. Even my neighbours in the south, a long way from the United Kingdom, fear the impact on wine and tourism, which essentially is all they’ve got.

When Macron was elected, a friend of mine who’d worked with him during his brief stint at Rothschild, and who found him an unlikeable and slippery colleague, nonetheless assured me that he was brilliant. He was always a swot, not just impressing but marrying his teacher. He won all the glittering prizes, admission to the École Nationale d’Administration, advancing thereafter to the status of haut fonctionnaire and economy minister under former president François Hollande.

But he is utterly lacking in emotional intelligence. He has failed to temper his narcissism and grandiosity, failed to listen, failed to master the essential art of politics, which is to bring people together, not divide them. His attempted listening tours have ended in disaster. Last summer, he was filmed telling an unemployed gardener how to find work: ‘In hotels, cafés and construction, everywhere I go people say to me that they are looking for staff,’ he said. ‘I can find you a job just by crossing the road.’ The video went viral. In his stubbornness and near autistic indifference to others, Macron has united France against him.

It will now be hard, perhaps impossible, for him to recover his popularity or his agenda which may help explain his Brexit obsession. He sees in it the concerns of provincial people who feel ignored by arrogant elites — the sort of people he’d hoped would go away. Brexit reminds him that they are unlikely to do so. As a result, his European renaissance is as undeliverable as the revolution he promised in France.

Could Macron and Brexit make Paris the capital of European tech?

Shortly after his election in May 2017, President Macron said he wanted France itself “to think and move like a start-up” – a vision of the country’s digital future that is gaining traction as Britain wrestles with Brexit.

French President EMMANUEL MACRON’s vow to make France a ‘start-up nation’ amid the uncertainty ‘s over BREXIT,  raising the question of whether could supplant London as the capital of European tech.

Since his election, Macron has wooed tech entrepreneurs with a string of initiatives in the form of lavish tax breaks, subsides, and credits for research. In March 2018, he promised to invest €1.5 billion into artificial intelligence research through 2022.

Some of these initiatives, in addition to Macron’s dynamism, have lured British tech companies who are looking to gain a foothold in EUROPE.

“It made sense to have a European base,” said Cedric Jones*, a Briton who recently launched a start-up at Station F, the cavernous old train station that is now home to the world’s largest start-up campus. “If I’m going to make waves in continental Europe… I wanted to get here before Brexit happened.”

Jones is among dozens of foreign entrepreneurs who have recently launched their start-up at Station F, whose 3,000 desk hub has seen spiralling applications from English-speaking nationals in the last two years.

Some cite political woes back home, the burgeoning French tech sector, or are inspired by Macron’s bid to make Paris the innovation heart of Europe.

“There’s an air of optimism and a can-do spirit in France that I feel we’ve lost somewhat in the US,” said Mark Heath, a New Yorker, who stayed on in France to launch a start-up after studying at INSEAD in 2017.

The Macron effect

Much of the investment in French tech predates Macron’s reforms. The state investment bank Bpifrance, launched by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2013, has been widely credited with developing the sector. His successor, former French president François Hollande, set up new foreign visas for start-up entrepreneurs.

But Zahir Bouchaary, a Briton who works out of Station F, credits Macron with injecting dynamism into the sector.

“Macron has installed a [start-up] mentality within the French ecosystem itself,” said Bouchaary, adding that it has become much easier to do business in France in the last few years.

“French customers are a lot more willing to work with start-ups than they were before,” said Bouchaary. “France was a very conservative country and our clients were used to working with big old-fashioned companies that have been around for a while. For the past few years they’ve opened up a lot more to working with younger companies and seem to take more risks than they did before.”

Jones agreed that Macron was “the single variable”. “When he [Macron] goes, the dynamism will go too. I absolutely would not expect that to remain the case if he’s not president.”

However, although Macron has moved to ease labour laws, Jones said that navigating the country’s labyrinthine bureaucracy in French remained “very burdensome”, and that it was far easier to build a business in the UK. “Whether it’s from a tax perspective or from a legal perspective it’s just so much more complicated.”

UK tech ‘resilient’

The tech scene in London appears to be just as vibrant as ever, explained Albin Serviant, president of Frenchtech in London, who said many UK-based tech entrepreneurs are adopting a “wait and see” approach to Brexit.

“The UK ecosystem is quite resilient,” said Serviant.

“In the first quarter of 2019, there were about €2 billion invested in tech in London. That’s compared to 1.5 billion last year, which is plus 30 percent. And that’s twice as much as France – which invested 1 billion. France is catching up very fast but the investment money is still flowing in the UK,” he added.

Serviant cited London’s business-friendly ecosystem and international talent pool as reasons for why London remains the capital of the European tech sector.

Nonetheless Serviant cautioned against the effects that a hard Brexit would have on the tech sector in the UK.

“‘If Brexit happens in a bad way and if people like me and other entrepreneurs have to leave, obviously that’s very bad for the UK because what makes it very different is the international DNA of London.”

Hard Brexit would not just damage the UK tech sector but would also pose challenges for British developers, who post-Brexit may need a carte de séjour to work in the country, looking to find work in France.

Sarah Pedroza, co managing director of Hello Tomorrow technologies, a Paris-based startup NGO, said that if she had to choose between hiring a British national and an EU citizen with the same skillset, she would opt for an EU citizen because there would be less paperwork involved.

Brexit aside, others suggest that France is snapping at the UK’s technological heels.

“I do think France has the potential under Macron to close the gap with the UK,” said Jones.

“The single biggest factor in what’s going on for France is that France is developing a sense of confidence in itself, in its start-up scene, as a tech hub, that’s being helped by France and that’s also being helped by Brexit.”

Initially the couple had tried to sell their guest house through estate agents but then tried an alternative route

French couple forced to halt online contest to sell villa

For just €13 (£11; $14), you too could have entered an online quiz to win a sprawling guest house set in the idyllic Dordogne in south-west France.

The contest was the idea of Brigitte and Christophe Demassougne, who had initially put their property on sale with local estate agents.

But the competition has fallen foul of French online gaming regulator Arjel.

The couple have been given eight days to prove the quiz does not breach a ban on games of chance based on knowledge.

Why did they start the quiz?

The couple have run the 450 sq m guest house on a seven-acre site at Cénac-et-Saint-Julien for the past 20 years. It includes an 18th Century villa, exterior buildings, tennis court and pool. Its value was estimated at around €1.5m.

Along with eight bedrooms in the house itself, there are two bed and breakfast gîtes and horse boxes.

The guest house with swimming pool
The regulator has given the owners eight days to prove their quiz is legitimate

As they neared retirement the couple decided to put the property on the market and had the idea of launching an online contest.

“I decided that the day I wanted to sell my house, I would do it in this way. Legal fees are really expensive and people can’t afford to buy these properties,” Brigitte Demassougne told France Bleu radio as the contest began.

Their hope was for 150,000 people to play the quiz by 1 December, so they could raise €2m. They were counting on French interest, but also potential buyers from abroad. Local reports said there had been entries from the UK, Canada, Belgium and Australia.

The lush Dordogne valley has long been loved by UK tourists and thousands of British expatriates have moved there.

Since the start on 1 April, 20,000 people have taken part in the €13 contest, AFP reports.

To enter, you had to answer two easy multiple-choice questions correctly, based on local geography, as well as guess the value of three objects, including an 18 carat gold 1kg bracelet.

What did they do wrong?

The quiz, which was widely publicised in the local area, soon came to the notice of the online gaming regulator. According to a notice on the couple’s site, the quiz has been suspended for eight days to allow them to prove their game “is not a game of chance and expertise”.

Under a 2014 law, games of chance based on a player’s expertise are banned. It says the sale of property is considered a lottery if an element of chance is involved and a participant has paid money to take part.

The couple have said they will pay everyone back if the regulator decides against them. Ms Demassougne said they would challenge the regulator in good faith, but she was “pessimistic” about their chances of success, she told AFP.

Holding competitions to sell your home is nothing new. Earlier this year a Canadian woman held a letter-writing contest for her home near Calgary.

A man in the Netherlands won a raffle last year when a book shop owner in Wales decided to give his customers the chance to win his store.

Mohamadi was rejected by the victim's fund after it decided he was not involved in any of the attacks

Paris attacks: Fake compensation claim ends in prison sentence

The manager of a restaurant caught up in the fatal Paris attacks of 2015 has been sentenced to prison for pretending he was a victim to claim compensation.

Yann Abdelhamid Mohamadi falsely claimed to be at the Casa Nostra restaurant when gunmen opened fire, killing five people outside.

He had already been convicted of selling video of the attack to the Daily Mail newspaper in the UK.

The court sentenced him to a year in prison for the attempt at fraud.

A second year of the sentence was suspended. A second man, Serge Dieujustse, admitted to falsely claiming to being a victim in a separate case. He was also given the same sentence. Both were detained immediately.

Claiming to have been in the restaurant’s cellar during the attack, Mohamadi had attempted to win compensation from the national victim’s guarantee fund, the FGTI.

The fund, however, denied the claim, and found that he had not been at the scene of any of the attacks on 13 November 2015, which left 130 people dead and more than 350 injured.

Prosecutors said his story had been motivated by the potential financial benefit.

Last year, the same court gave Mohamadi a suspended sentence of six months and a fine of thousands of euros for distributing the video of the 2015 attack.

The footage published by the Daily Mail showed a gunman opening fire on the restaurant, sending distressed patrons scrambling for cover, before apparently attempting to kill two women at point-blank range.

However, he seemed to have run out of ammunition, or his gun had jammed, and he left the scene to continue his attacks elsewhere.

Two people walk down the path outside a restaurant, while two more sit on the exterior seating of the cafe / restaurant in Paris
People pass by the Casa Nostra restaurant shortly after its reopening, months after the attack

The leak of the video was accompanied by French media reports that Mohamadi had sold the footage to the British newspaper for some €50,000 (£43,000; £56,000).

The reports resulted in widespread criticism and anger in France, where the alleged sale was seen as a way of financially benefitting from a tragedy.

The Daily Mail defended its acquisition of the footage as “nothing controversial” and “in the public interest”

The impact on the Casa Nostra was severe, with Mohamadi telling French media business had been extremely slow after the restaurant re-opened, and a wave of one-star reviews online urging Parisians to boycott the venue.

Prosecutors said his false claim to have been a victim was a further attempt to take advantage of the tragedy.

#Brexit: Theresa May meets Emmanuel Macron for delay request

Theresa May is holding last-minute Brexit talks with the French President Emmanuel Macron, with the UK due to leave the EU in three days’ time.

The UK PM will urge Mr Macron to back her request to delay Brexit again until 30 June, having earlier met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

After the talks, Ms Merkel said a delay that runs to the end of the year or the start of 2020 was a possibility.

There is a summit on Wednesday when all EU states will vote on an extension.

Cross-party talks in Westminster aimed at breaking the impasse in Parliament finished, with both sides expressing hope there would be progress.

A draft EU document circulated to diplomats ahead of the emergency meeting of EU leaders proposes an extension but leaves the date blank.

The BBC’s Brussels correspondent Mr Ben Rory, said the document refers to an extension lasting “only as long as is necessary and, in any event, no longer than XX.XX.XXXX and ending earlier if the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified”.

European Council president Donald Tusk said there was “little reason to believe” that the ratification process of the withdrawal agreement could be completed by the end of June.

In a letter to EU leaders, he said at Wednesday’s summit members should discuss “an alternative, longer extension” that will be flexible and “would last only as long as necessary and no longer than one year”.

The UK is currently due to leave the EU at 23:00 BST on Friday.

Downing Street said Mrs May and Ms Merkel discussed the UK’s request for an extension of Article 50 – the process by which the UK leaves the EU – to 30 June, with the option to bring this forward if a deal is ratified earlier.

The prime minister and Chancellor Merkel agreed “on the importance of ensuring Britain’s orderly withdrawal”, a statement said.

There was no-one to greet the PM as she arrived to meet the German chancellor for Brexit talks in Berlin

Ms Merkel said EU leaders would discuss a “flextension” – a one-year flexible extension – at Wednesday’s summit.

Following a meeting of the EU’s General Affairs Council in Luxembourg, diplomats said “slightly more than a handful” of member states spoke in favour of a delay to 30 June and a majority were in favour of a longer extension.

Adam Fleming said no maximum end extension date was agreed, although December 2019 and March 2020 were mentioned.

Conditions of a delay were discussed including UK participation in May’s European Parliament elections, no re-opening of the withdrawal agreement and how to guarantee the UK’s pledge of “sincere co-operation” in ongoing EU business.

So far, MPs have rejected the withdrawal agreement Mrs May reached with other European leaders last year.

One of most contentious parts of the plan is the Irish backstop – an insurance policy that aims to prevent a hard border returning to the island of Ireland.

Andrea Leadsom: Merkel should reopen withdrawal deal

The EU has continually said it will not re-open the withdrawal agreement for negotiations, but Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom renewed her plea for them to look again.

Meanwhile, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said cross-party talks aimed at breaking the impasse in Parliament had been “open and constructive”, but the two sides differed on a “number of areas”.

Labour’s shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey said they were “hopeful progress will be made” and discussions with the government will continue in the “coming days”.

Further talks are due to be held on Thursday.

In a leaked letter seen by the Telegraph, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has warned that agreeing with Labour over its demand for a customs union is the “worst of both worlds” and will leave Britain unable to set its own trade policy.

On Tuesday afternoon, MPs approved a government motion asking MPs to approve the PM’s request to the EU to delay Brexit, required after a bill from Labour’s Yvette Cooper became law.

The final decision on an extension lies with the EU – and the leaders of all the 27 other EU countries have to decide whether to grant or reject an extension.

If the UK is still a member of the EU on 23 May, it will have to take part in European Parliamentary elections.

Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said the UK would “certainly not” leave without a deal on Friday.

But Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said a no-deal Brexit was still possible – even though it would represent “an extraordinary failure of politics”.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the EU has “hope and expectation” from the cross-party talks happening in Westminster and he would be willing to “improve” the political declaration “within hours”.

EU leaders are curious to hear the prime minister’s Plan B. They hope there is one, although they’re not convinced.

They want to know, if they say yes to another Brexit extension, what it will be used for.

And they suspect Theresa May wants them to do her dirty work for her.

EU diplomatic sources I have spoken to suggest the prime minister may have officially asked the EU for a short new extension (until 30 June) as that was politically easier for her back home, whereas she believed and hoped (the theory goes) that EU leaders will insist instead on a flexible long extension that she actually needs.

The bottom line is: EU leaders are extremely unlikely to refuse to further extend the Brexit process.

If no cross-party compromise can be reached, Mrs May has committed to putting a series of Brexit options to the Commons and being bound by the result.

This could include the option of holding a public vote on any deal agreed by Parliament.

Tory MP and government aide to the chancellor, Huw Merriman, said he backed a “People’s Vote” to secure the public’s support for the prime minister’s deal.

Speaking at a rally for the campaign, he said it was “seriously wrong” that he had been threatened with the sack, and said he wanted another vote in order to “get this country through the mess we are currently in”.

Key dates in the week ahead

  • Tuesday: Theresa May travels to Berlin, and Paris, for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. Commons vote on motion to approve the PM’s request to the EU to delay Brexit
  • Wednesday: PMQs in the Commons. Emergency summit of EU leaders to consider UK request for further extension until 30 June, with the option of an earlier Brexit day if a deal can be agreed
  • Friday: Brexit day, if UK is not granted a further delay
Flowchart on next steps

Explosive Corsica offers tense end to Emmanuel Macron’s do-or-die ‘great debate’ tour of France

President Emmanuel Macron completed an exhausting “great debate” tour of France yesterday (Thurs) with a tense visit to Corsica, where nationalists boycotted the meeting and brandished the island’s flag depicting a beheaded Moor by way of welcome.

Mr Macron, has spent almost 100 hours listening since January listening and responding to the grievances of local mayors and officials in meetings around France. The exercise was part of an attempt to assuage the yellow-vest revolt, which fanned from the provinces to Paris and snowballed into the worst crisis of his presidency.

Almost two million people have posted suggestions on issues ranging from taxes to popular referendums on a dedicated website while a further million have taken part in almost 1,500 meetings across the country.

Mr Macron’s uncannily good memory and stamina have won plaudits during the 15 debates he has taken part in with groups ranging from intellectuals in Paris to schoolchildren in Burgundy. Even rivals offered grudging praise at his ability to go from macroeconomics to the minutiae of local politics, on everything from “bears in the Pyrenees to toxins in Tampax”, to quote one observer cited by Le Figaro.

As a result his poll ratings have started to recover after hit an all-time low amid claims he was an arrogant and out-of-touch “president of the rich”.

With France's 'Grand Débat' drawing to a close, the question remains: what measures will President Emmanuel Macron propose as a response?
With France’s ‘Grand Débat’ drawing to a close, the question remains: what measures will President Emmanuel Macron propose as a response?

However, with the debate period now coming to a close, all eyes are on whether he can translate the unprecedented exercise in “participative democracy” into workable measures that will satisfy the irascible gilets jaunes and stamp out violent protests in Paris and other big cities.

His prime minister, Edouard Philippe, is due next Monday to outline the initial findings from the website contributions, which have been fed to an artificial intelligence application for keywords. Mr Macron is then due to announce proposals on the back of the debates later this month. Some commentators say these could be radical.

Mr Macron did not pick the easiest of venues to round off his marathon debate tour as he was met by nationalists waving the Corsican flag, which depicts the black head of a beheaded pirate, along the route towards a village where the debate took place near Ajaccio. They were furious that only the French and European flags were flying at the venue.

Emmanuel Macron was snubbed by nationalists in Corsica, where he rounded off his "great debate' tour - a response to France's yellow vest revolt
Emmanuel Macron was snubbed by nationalists in Corsica, where he rounded off his “great debate’ tour – a response to France’s yellow vest revolt CREDIT:

Less than half of the 350 mayors invited turned up while Corsica’s two top politicians, Gilles Simeoni, the nationalist head of Corsican regional government, and his more radical coalition partner in the Corsican assembly, Jean-Guy Talamoni, boycotted the meeting in protest at Mr Macron’s refusal to cede to their demands.

These include an amnesty for prisoners jailed for separatist violence, wider use of the Corsican language and measures to bar wealthy mainlanders from the local property market.

The president has offered to add an article on Corsica to the constitution which would recognise its “specificity” and allow the regional assembly to adapt some national legislation.

But after a five-year lull, there are fears of renewed violence on the Mediterranean “island of beauty” after plastic explosives were found at tax offices in Bastia two days before Mr Macron’s visit and several second homes were blown up in recent weeks.

In an interview this week, Mr Macron said he would ”do everything to ensure that the page of violence has been turned for good”.

“I think that you can defend the Corsican identity and fully respect the nation and its values,” he added. 

During the debate, he said he too wanted to move forward, but called on nationalists to express regret at the assassination of the highest state representative on the island, Claude Erignac, gunned down in 1998.

The care home is still open but prosecutors may press manslaughter charges

French link duck salad to five deaths at care home

A contaminated salad containing duck meat is suspected of having killed five residents of a care home for the elderly in southern France.

Four women and a man, aged from 76 to 95, died after eating the salad on Sunday night. In all, 20 people at the home near Toulouse suffered vomiting and other symptoms of food poisoning.

Twelve of those taken ill are in hospital, but not in grave danger.

The salad ingredients, including duck foie gras (pâté), are being examined.

Prosecutors have put the suspicious ingredients under lock and key, as they prepare possible manslaughter charges against the management.

French media report that the privately-run home – La Chêneraie, in rural Lherm – passed a hygiene inspection in February.

A granddaughter of one victim told the local daily La Dépêche du Midi: “I’ve still got the menu in my bag and I know that last night they ate Périgord salad. So what does that mean? Maybe it was the foie gras?”

The cause of death is not yet official, as the results of post mortems are awaited.

One of the victims, 93-year-old Antoinette, had Alzheimer’s.

Care quality under scrutiny

The home has 82 residents and was opened in 2006. Korian group, which manages it, says meals are prepared in the home’s kitchen – not delivered from outside.

But Alain Lepeyre, whose mother was among the five who died, said the meals had been brought in. He said a doctor at the home had told him that.

A woman called Chantal, whose parents are at the home but did not fall ill, said special meals were prepared for certain residents – and that was apparently the case in Sunday’s fatal incident.

The tragedy in Lherm has fuelled a French debate about the state of retirement homes – there have been many complaints of understaffing and poor quality of care.

The government is reviewing provision for the elderly, including care home jobs, and aims to create 80,000 extra posts in care homes – that is, 25% more – by 2024.

Unfounded rumours of a van-driving kidnapper resulted in violence

French Roma attacked over false ‘man in van’ kidnap rumours

A series of unprovoked vigilante attacks on France’s Roma community have erupted after false reports spread online about child abductions.

But police say the warnings of a “man in a white van” kidnapping children off the streets are “totally unfounded”.

Some 20 people were arrested on Monday night after attacking the Roma community with makeshift weapons.

A police chief in one of the suburbs warned officers of “a psychosis that is starting to set in.”

Claims of a man in a van abducting children and others – reportedly to fuel prostitution rings or the illegal organ trade – have been circulating online in recent weeks.

Sometimes the van is red, or yellow, in a different region, or of Bulgarian or Romanian origin. The reports have spread rapidly on Whatsapp, Snapchat, and other social media networks.

But there is no evidence of any of them.

What’s going on in France?

“Rumours about kidnapping children with a van are completely unfounded. No abductions have been proven,” Paris police wrote on Twitter on Monday.

“Do not share this false information, do not incite violence,” it warned.

Monday night’s attacks on the Roma community happened in the neighbouring Clichy-sous-Bois and Bobigny areas north-east of central Paris. French broadcaster BFMTV said the attackers had armed themselves with baseball bats, knives, and rocks – and between the two areas, there were about 70 people involved in the vigilante mob.

City officials have joined the police in saying there are no reports of any missing people that could have been abducted in such a manner, nor any matching reports of attempted kidnapping.

Yet the online rumours have continued to spread – along with video footage of attacks on van drivers “matching” a supposed description of the alleged kidnapper, across several regions.

Some show a van passing at speed to escape men on foot. Another shows a person huddled in a white van, with its door open, while hooded men throw rocks at them.

French media outlets have debunked images that claim to show a suspicious van “spotted” by a supposed well-meaning citizen – which are sometimes years old, or from a different region.

The rumours have parallels to last year’s lynchings in India, where several people were killed by mobs based on false videos circulating on Whatsapp, purporting to show abductions.

The man in a van ‘myth’

The child abductor in a van – usually a white one – is a well-known, almost stereotypical image. Hundreds of similar reports and warnings abound online from local new outlets across the globe.

France’s Libération newspaper says (in French) that the story has “haunted the web for years” in Belgium, Germany, and France.

It was labelled an “urban myth” by Australia’s ABC News as far back as 2009, when a state crime statistics expert said most such reports were false.

In 2012, Sweden followed suit, with a detective inspector telling newspapers that the white van urban myth had been around for 10 years – most likely because it was the most common type of van.

The workman’s van in a white colour is ubiquitous on the roads of many nations – to the extent that “white van man” is a well-used phrase in British life.

A photograph shows hundreds of white vans parked in neat lines queuing in a port. There are two non-white vans visible - one black and one grey
The port of Southampton, 10 February 2019 – one sign of the ubiquitous nature of the white van

Yet the risk of child abduction by strangers is a genuine concern.

In the UK, there were 1,189 child abduction offences in 2017/18 – 20% of which were committed by a family member, 40% by non-family that the child knows, and the remaining 40% by strangers – about 475 offences.

But most of those are attempted abductions, rather than completed abductions.

Current UK police advice to children is based on a campaign titled “clever never goes” – warning children that while not all adult strangers are dangerous, they should never go anywhere with an adult unexpectedly – even with those they may already know.