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France honours Madrid dead

PARIS, March 15 (AFP) – French President Jacques Chirac on Monday paid tribute to the 200 victims of last week’s Madrid train bombings at the Spanish embassy in Paris, observing three minutes of silence at midday.

Chirac left a wreath of red, white and blue flowers at the foot of a flagpole at the embassy, on which the Spanish flag flew at half-mast. He and a tearful Ambassador Javier Elorza then stood side by side for the silent homage.

The ceremony was part of a Europe-wide tribute to those killed on Thursday when 10 bombs ripped through commuter trains in the Spanish capital. The attacks also left 1,500 people wounded.

Sirens blared and church bells rang out in Paris and across France at 12 noon in honour of the victims. At Chirac’s request, the flags at the Elysee presidential palace were flown at half-mast on Monday.

Across the French capital, underground trains briefly came to a halt, buses stopped, and shoppers in the Galeries Lafayette department store froze in place after an announcement made in French, English, Spanish and Chinese.

In the Louvre museum, the normal din under the spectacular glass pyramid went silent after personnel asked patrons to respect the three minutes of silence.

Chirac, who said his presence was a way of “sharing in the grief of the Spanish nation,” reassured embassy personnel of France’s solidarity with Spain in the wake of the bombings.

The embassy staff applauded as Chirac left the building, as did some 200 to 300 people gathered outside behind barricades.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who observed the three minutes of silence with 500 civil servants in the courtyard at Matignon, hailed the “memory of all the victims of terrorism, in solidarity with their families.”

Similar ceremonies took place at France’s other ministries and in parliament.


                                                              Subject: France news