PARIS. – The French government on Thursday accused radicals of storming a famed Paris hospital during a fiery May Day, in an incident that risks further raising tensions between authorities and a nationwide protest movement.
Doctors at the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital — where Diana, Princess of Wales died in 1997 after a car crash in Paris — also said protesters had forced their way into the hospital, caused damage and even tried to enter an intensive care unit.
But supporters of the “yellow vest” movement, whose protests have shaken the government of President Emmanuel Macron over the past half year — insisted the demonstrators were merely seeking refuge from tear gas fired by police.
The incident came during a hugely tense May Day which saw Paris police clash with hardline protesters.
More than 30 people were arrested for entering the hospital, Paris prosecutors said.
The hospital’s director, Marie-Anne Ruder, accused protesters, some of whom were masked, of forcibly entering the establishment and displaying “violent and threatening behaviour”.
“I think all French people, like me, are extremely shocked. It’s unspeakable,” French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn told Europe 1 Radio.
Buzyn, who will visit the hospital later on Thursday to thank staff for their conduct, said the incident “should make us think of the level of violence and contemptible behaviour that we are seeing in the streets of our cities”.
She acknowledged that protesters may have entered the hospital for different reasons, with some fleeing tear gas but said others may have been bent on theft, notably of computers.
The situation would be clearer after those in detention had been questioned, she said.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner also accused protesters of “attacking a hospital” and of “aggressive behaviour towards the staff”.
He pointed the finger at ultra-left radicals known as “black blocs” of jumping on the yellow vest bandwagon.
By Thursday morning, a total of 191 people were still in custody over the Paris unrest, 11 of them minors, prosecutors said.
The yellow vest protests erupted in November over social inequality with a show of anger against the policies of Macron, whom opponents accuse of not doing enough for the poor.
The weekly protests have often spilt over into violence. But Macron has acknowledged the demands of many protesters are just and last month announced tax cuts and other measures to show he was listening.
At the same time, the authorities have accused some protesters of unacceptable behaviour — including anti-Semitism and homophobia. Demonstrators say this is a tactic aimed at discrediting the entire movement.
Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the ultra-left France Unbowed party, accused Castaner of making up what he described as a “pseudo attack” on the hospital.
“Truth is the first victim of Macron’s sidekicks,” he wrote on Twitter.
Princess Diana was brought to La Pitie-Salpetriere in the early hours of August 31, 1997 with massive chest injuries and haemorrhaging after a car crash in Paris.
Doctors at the hospital’s emergency unit battled to save her but she was pronounced dead hours later. – AFP