17 injured as troops use live ammo in visitors day display
French soldiers fire live bullets instead of blanks during a visitors day display, leaving 17 people including a child injured.30 June 2008
CARCASSONNE - Seventeen people, including a child left in a critical condition, were injured Sunday when French soldiers fired live bullets instead of blanks during a visitors day display, regional officials told AFP.
Fifteen civilians and two soldiers were injured in the incident, of which the details remained unclear late Sunday, involving a demonstration by members of a marines parachute regiment of a hostage liberation exercise, the regional authority said.
Witnesses said the incident took place shortly before 6 pm (1600 GMT) on a demonstration ground just inside the barracks, which was open to the public over the weekend.
Four of the 17 were seriously injured, with two described as critical following "incomprehensible" scenes at the barracks near Carcassone, in the country's south-west.
According to local authorities, five children were among the injured.
Five helicopters, 11 firefighters' first-aid vehicles and two ambulances rushed to the scene to help the injured.
One soldier had been detained, although no explanation was immediately forthcoming for why the wrong ammunition was loaded into weapons.
"All hypotheses are being considered," said a national police spokesman late Sunday, adding that the weapons had been "seized and placed under lock and key."
Hospitals in the southern cities and towns of Toulouse, Narbonne, Montpellier and Perpignan, as well as Carcassone, were treating the injured.
Colonel Benoit Royal, head of the army's information unit, said a number among the injured were from military families.
France's Defence Minister Herve Morin travelled to Carcassone on Sunday evening to visit victims of the incident in the hospital.
"I have ordered an immediate inquiry ... to determine as quickly as possible the circumstances of this tragic incident," he said.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy was urgently awaiting the results of the top-level military probe, according to a presidential statement.
Sarkozy said he "shares with the families the pain caused by this tragedy. My first thoughts are with the victims. Everything will be put in place to care for them."
Lemaire added that investigators believed the deadly ammunition was loaded by mistake.
"The question being asked is 'Did the soldier engage in a criminal act or not?'," Lemaire said. "For now, no one can answer that, but the theory being worked on is one of error."
[AFP / Expatica]
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