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French army chief resigns after shooting incident

1/07/2008 - 15:34

By Tamora Vidaillet

PARIS (Reuters) - France's army chief of staff resigned onTuesday after a soldier fired live ammunition instead of blanksat a weekend military show and injured 17 people, thepresidential office said.

President Nicolas Sarkozy had pledged to react rapidly andseverely following the incident during a military show by theThird Marine Parachute regiment, open to the public in thesouthern French town of Carcassonne.

The resignation of General Bruno Cuche comes as France,which took over the rotating presidency of the European Unionon Tuesday, looks to revamp its armed forces by slashing staffnumbers and trying to ensure soldiers in the field are betterequipped.

"The President, the head of the armies, has accepted theresignation presented by army General Bruno Cuche, head of theland army," said a statement from Sarkozy's office.

Sarkozy expected the armed forces "to draw everyconsequence with regards to the way they are organised andfunction," the statement said.

Cuche answers to a higher-ranking officer in charge of theoverall armed forces while Sarkozy is the ultimate head of theFrench military.

The incident highlighted serious breaches in the use ofarms and security during demonstrations at public militaryevents, Defence Minister Herve Morin said in a separatestatement.

As a precaution, the defence ministry was suspending theuse of blanks during open or public demonstrations, Morin said.

DISCONTENT

Speaking later to RTL radio, Morin said Cuche had alludedto such a resignation while travelling to meet the victims ofthe incident on Sunday, mostly members of the public includinga 3-year-old boy.

"As the head of the (land) army charged with thepreparation and training of forces, he was the highestauthority," said Morin.

The boy was hit in the heart and in the arm as the crowdwatched soldiers simulate an attack. His condition hadstabilised after doctors operated on him.

The soldier who fired the shots was taken in forquestioning and will soon appear before a judge beforepotentially being placed under examination for "unintentionalinjuries."

The French media has reported on low morale in somequarters of the military fuelled by government plans to slashmilitary staff numbers, mostly to the detriment of supportfunctions, and to close or merge some military bases.

Some officers have spoken out anonymously against amilitary roadmap charting French defence strategy over thecoming 15 years which Sarkozy unveiled on June 17 in the formof a government policy document.

For some in the army, plans to cut 54,000 mostlyadministrative and support posts over the coming six or sevenyears and the way Sarkozy has handled defence matters points toa downsizing in military capability and ambition.

(Reporting by Tamora Vidaillet and Emmanuel Jarry; Editingby Richard Balmforth)


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