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‘Sleepless Night’ turns into nightmare for Paris mayor

Paris, Oct. 6 (Reuters): A deranged homophobe stabbed Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe at an all-night party at City Hall early today, inflicting a small abdominal wound that was not life-threatening, officials and police said.

But Delanoe, a Socialist homosexual elected last year, insisted to aides while lying bleeding on the parquet floor that the French capital’s festival continue until dawn, they said.

A judicial source said the attacker was a 39-year-old practising Muslim born near Paris, who told interrogators he acted “out of animosity towards politicians and homosexuals”.

“He happened to be at City Hall and, seeing Delanoe pass by, he took out a knife he always carries in his pocket and attacked,” the source said, adding that judicial officials considered the attack an isolated incident not linked to terrorism.

Delanoe, 52, who was later operated on at the nearby Pitie Salpetriere hospital, was moving through a crowd in a dim gilded salon when the man pounced on him at 2.30 am.

The mayor had opened City Hall to visitors for the “Nuit Blanche (Sleepless Night)” festival, when many public buildings and museums were open all night for music and shows.

Hospital spokesman Thierry Meresse said Delanoe was operated on and his state of health exhibited “no cause for worry... all intra-abdominal lesions have been treated successfully”.

Deputy Mayor Christophe Girard, organiser of the festival that attracted about 400,000 visitors around the city, rushed to the mayor’s side shortly after the attack.

“He told me the ‘Nuit Blanche’ should continue unchanged and not to dramatise what had happened,” he told journalists. “He was completely conscious and determined that an isolated incident should not affect what was supposed to be a nice festival of Paris for the Parisians.”

Delanoe, the capital’s first left-wing mayor since the 1871 Paris Commune, is now one of the leading figures in the Socialist Party after former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin suffered a crushing defeat in the spring presidential election.

Although he disclosed his homosexuality years ago and marches in the city’s annual Gay Pride, he has not made an issue of his sexuality and it rarely merits a mention in France.

Today’s attack followed an incident at the Bastille Day parade on July 14 when a neo-Nazi fired a shot near President Jacques Chirac. Earlier this year, a deranged man gunned down eight local councillors in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre.

Officials said Delanoe, a soft-spoken man with a grassroots image, had wanted City Hall as open as possible. “There was no checking at the door,” one woman at the party told French radio.

Girard said Delanoe remained calm after the attack. “He told me, ‘I’ve been hurt a bit on my right side, I’ll probably need some stitches’,” Girard said.

“He was like someone who’d just fallen down, I’d say, nothing more than that. He was looking pale, of course.”

Many visitors milling about under the glittering chandeliers in the City Hall ballroom had no idea what had happened nearby and continued partying after Delanoe was carried out.

Police said the attacker, who was overpowered by a City Hall aide and taken away, was known as a drug trafficker and had apparently had behavioural problems in the past.

“He’s clearly a deranged person,” said Girard.

Chirac, himself a former Paris mayor, sent a message condemning “this insane act”. Interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Party chairman Francois Hollande were among politicians who rushed to the hospital to visit him.

The ornate City Hall, decorated as a 1930s nightclub with soft lounge music, was such a popular feature of the “Nuit Blanche” festival that many people could not get in during the evening. Some outside chanted “Bertrand, Bertrand!”

The Louvre museum, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and other city landmarks were open for free visits all night. Jazz and reggae bands played at bistros and Vietnamese models put on a fashion show at the historic Palais Royal.

One glass facade of the National Library was turned into a giant interactive light show that passers-by could operate by sending messages with their mobile telephones.

During the summer, Delanoe’s “Paris Plage (Paris Beach)” brought sand, potted palms and beach sports to the highway along the Seine River. He wants to repeat both festivals next year.

But Delanoe, who with his Greens partners wants to make the city more liveable, has also angered small businessmen and taxi drivers by creating bus lanes to cut down traffic congestion.

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