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Sunday 15 September 2019

Notre Dame Cathedral stabilised as firefighters leave site

French authorities are now preparing for more protests by the yellow vest movement.

French soldiers on patrol along the side of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (Michel Euler/AP)
French soldiers on patrol along the side of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (Michel Euler/AP)

By Nicolas Vaux-Montagny, Sylvie Corbet and Samuel Petrequin, Associated Press

Architects and construction workers have now stabilised the damaged structure of Notre Dame Cathedral, four days after a fast-spreading fire ravaged the Paris building.

A fire brigade spokesman confirmed crews will leave the site on Friday night.

It comes as French authorities prepare for more planned protests by the yellow vest movement across the country this weekend.

It's a miracle that the cathedral is still standing and that all the relics were saved Lieutenant Colonel Gabriel Plus

“There is no more risk the edifice’s walls could fall down,” Lieutenant Colonel Gabriel Plus said, adding firefighters have been able to cool down the walls and debris from the roof inside the cathedral.

“It’s a miracle that the cathedral is still standing, and that all the relics were saved,” he said.

As Catholics carried out the Way Of The Cross ritual near the cathedral to mark Good Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron met officials from the United Nations’ cultural agency, Unesco.

Unesco representatives have offered their technical expertise to help with the reconstruction.

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French president Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech to Paris Firefighters’ Brigade and security forces who took part in extinguishing the blaze at Notre Dame Cathedral (Christophe Petit Tesson/AP)

Mr Macron is moving quickly on the fire-ravaged monument’s reconstruction, which is being viewed both as a push to make it part of his legacy and a way to move past the divisive yellow vest protests over social inequality in France.

Notre Dame’s reconstruction is prompting widespread debate across France, with differing views over whether it should involve new technologies and designs.

Mr Macron’s office has, for example, said the president wants a “contemporary architectural gesture to be considered” for the collapsed 19th-century spire, which was not part of the original cathedral.

The president has not offered any specifics on his vision for the roof or whether the frame should be wood, metal or concrete, according to his cultural heritage envoy, Stephane Bern.

He has named a general, Jean-Louis Georgelin, former chief of staff of the armed forces, to lead the reconstruction effort.

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Worshippers take part in the Good Friday procession near Notre Dame Cathedral (Francois Mori/AP)

The Notre Dame fire delayed Mr Macron’s long-awaited plans to quell anti-government protests that have marred his presidency.

The French leader abandoned a planned TV address to the nation on the evening of the fire, heading to the scene instead and declaring: “We will rebuild Notre Dame.”

According to an opinion poll by BVA institute published on Friday, the first carried out since the fire, Mr Macron has gained three points in popularity in the past month with an approval rating of 32%.

That puts him back at the support level of September, before the yellow vest crisis, BVA said.

Although all French polls show Mr Macron’s popularity has remain depressed since a tax increase on retired people last year, they suggest his party may be ahead in France’s May 26 European Parliament election, with Marine Le Pen’s far-right party, the National Rally, close behind.

Mr Macron is now expected to detail his new measures next week.

He earlier was planning to respond to demonstrators’ concerns over their loss of purchasing power with tax cuts for lower-income households and measures to boost pensions and help single parents.

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A yellow vest protester in Paris last weekend (Christophe Ena/AP)

Despite the destruction of Notre Dame dominating the news in France, a new round of yellow vest protests is planned on Saturday across the country, including in Paris.

Interior minister Christophe Castaner said 60,000 police officers will be mobilised and demonstrations near Notre Dame will be banned as he expects some protests to turn violent.

A founding leader of the yellow vest movement in France has claimed Mr Macron is exploiting the Notre Dame fire for political gain.

Ingrid Levavasseur spoke out ahead of another round of planned protests across the country this weekend.

She said: “You’re there, looking at all these millions accumulating, after spending five months in the streets fighting social and fiscal injustice. It’s breaking my heart.

“What happened at Notre Dame is obviously a deplorable tragedy. But nobody died.

“I’ve heard someone speaking of national mourning.

“Are they out of their minds?”

The blaze at Notre Dame has sent shock waves through France but Ms Levavasseur believes the image of unbroken national unity that arose in the aftermath of the fire is being politically exploited by Mr Macron.

“It took him less than 24 hours to speak about the fire, while he made us wait for three weeks before addressing our issues,” she said.

Decrying the struggles of low-paid workers and pensioners, and accusing Mr Macron’s government of favouring the rich, yellow vest activists, named after the fluorescent jackets French motorists are required to keep in their cars, have been protesting for 22 consecutive weekends.

Frustrated by the lack of government response, Ms Levavasseur has stopped attending demonstrations in recent weeks but is considering returning to the streets on Saturday because of an even greater sense of being overlooked since the Notre Dame blaze.

PA Media

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