French policemen stand outside Notre Dame Cathedral. Photo: AFP
A far-right writer and activist killed himself in front of the altar of Paris's famed Notre Dame Cathedral on Tuesday in an apparent protest against gay marriage, after calling for "spectacular" action to protect France's identity.
Dominique Venner, 78, a former right-wing activist known in France for his political essays, posted a note on his blog, attacking a law passed by the Socialist government last week allowing same-sex marriage and adoption, which he called "vile".
We are reaching a time when words must be backed up with acts.
His suicide was hailed by Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National (FN), as a political gesture.
Notre Dame Cathedral: Dominique Venner killed himself at the alter. Photo: AFP
"All respect to Dominique Venner whose final, eminently political act was to try to wake up the people of France," Le Pen said on Twitter, though she added later that "it is in life and hope that France will renew and save itself."
Bruno Gollnisch, an FN stalwart, said Venner's "dramatic act was a protest against the decay of our society."
Police said Venner calmly walked to the altar in the choir area and shot himself with an automatic pistol, according to Europe 1 radio.
Political act: Dominique Venner.
Tourists said the cathedral was full when the gun was fired, but there was no panic during the police evacuation.
In his blog post, Venner appeared to link his forthcoming act to France's "Marriage for All" law, which was passed into legislation last week after the country's highest constitutional court waived any objections.
Alluding to a forthcoming demonstration by anti-gay marriage activists on Sunday, Mr Venner said: "Demonstrators on 26 May will now have reasons to shout their impatience and anger. A vile law, which once voted, can still be reversed."
The cathedral was full when Dominique Venner killed himself at the altar. Photo: AFP
Venner had a long career publishing right-wing essays, military histories and books on weaponry and hunting.
He was a soldier during France's war in Algeria and was a member of the OAS (Secret Armed Organisation), a short-lived paramilitary group that opposed Algeria's independence from France.
In a final essay on his website on Tuesday, he railed against France's adoption of legalising gay marriage and adoption, urging activists to take measures to protect "French and European identities".
In a possible reference to his suicide, Venner wrote: "There will certainly need to be new, spectacular, symbolic gestures to shake off the sleepiness... and re-awaken the memories of our origins."
"We are reaching a time when words must be backed up with acts," he added.
The rector of the cathedral, Monsignor Patrick Jacquin, said that Venner had laid a letter on the altar before killing himself. A police source said the letter contained similar writings to those on Venner's website.
"We did not know him, he was not a regular at the cathedral," Jacquin said, adding that he believed it was the first time anyone had killed themselves inside the cathedral.
Greg, an American tourist from Phoenix, said the church was full at the time of the suicide but that there was no panic during the evacuation.
"We just heard a loud sound, like a body falling from above," said Greg, who would not give his last name.
Jacquin said masses had been cancelled and that church officials would hold a vigil later on Tuesday.
"We will pray for this man, as for so many others at their end," he said. "This is terrible, we are thinking of him and his family."
Venner's publisher, Pierre-Guillaume de Roux, said his next book due in June was entitled A Western Samurai.
He said the writer's death had "an extremely strong symbolic power that approximates (Yukio) Mishima," the radical right-wing Japanese author who committed ritual suicide in 1970.
Gollnisch said Mishima had likely been an inspiration for Venner's suicide.
The Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral on an islet on the River Seine is one of the most visited sites in Paris, attracting 13.6 million visitors in 2011, and is this year celebrating its 850th anniversary.
It was the second dramatic suicide in less than a week in Paris, after a 50-year-old man with a history of family problems shot himself dead on Thursday in a primary school near the Eiffel Tower, in front of about a dozen stunned children.
AFP. Daily Telegraph, London
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