Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

Paris attacks suspect refuses to answer questions at Belgian trial — Refused to even stand when ordered by the judge…

February 5, 2018


© AFP / by Lachlan CARMICHAEL and Alex PIGMAN | Abdeslam signalled his defiance by refusing to stand when asked by the judge and saying he would not cooperate.

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The only surviving suspect in the 2015 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, refused to answer questions on Monday as he went on trial in Brussels over a bloody shootout with police that led to his capture.Tight security surrounded the start of the trial of the 28-year-old, who was transferred overnight from a jail near the French capital Paris and arriving in Belgium in a convoy of police vehicles.

Abdeslam, who has declined to to speak to investigators since his arrest in March 2016, immediately signalled his defiance on Monday by refusing to stand when asked by the judge and saying he would not cooperate.

“I do not wish to answer any questions,” Abdeslam, bearded and wearing a long-sleeved white polo shirt, said when the presiding judge, Marie-France Keutgen, asked him to confirm his identity.

The judge told the court that Abdeslam has also refused to have photos or video taken of him during the four-day trial in Brussels.

The Belgian-born French national of Moroccan descent faces charges of attempted terrorist murder of police officers and carrying banned weapons over a gunbattle in the Forest district of Brussels on March 15, 2016.

Three police officers were wounded and a jihadist was killed in the fight, which came as Abdeslam was on the run four months after the Paris attacks. He was captured three days later.

Abdeslam and the man arrested with him, Tunisian national Sofiane Ayari, 24, could serve up to 40 years in prison if convicted.

Hundreds of Belgian security forces turned the Palais de Justice court building in Brussels into a virtual fortress while a helicopter with searchlights circled overhead as he arrived.

“This must remain an ordinary trial,” said the official who presides over the court, Luc Hennart. “If there is the slightest problem I will order the courtroom to be evacuated.”

– ‘Important for victims’ –

The non-jury trial is the prelude to a later one in France and prosecutors hope the Brussels trial will yield clues not only about the attacks that killed 130 people in Paris but also the suicide bombings months later in Brussels.

Abdeslam has refused point-blank to speak to investigators throughout the nearly two years since his arrest, which capped a four-month hunt for Europe’s most wanted man.

But he has insisted on attending the Brussels trial, where three judges are to lead proceedings for four days, which had raised hopes, now apparently dashed, that he would use it to break his silence.

Hennart insisted that the trial would only focus on the shootout, saying: “That is what we will talk about, we will not talk about either the Brussels or Paris attacks.”

The plans for transferring Abdeslam from Fleury-Merogis prison in the Parisian suburbs, and then back to a prison just across the border in northern France every night, were shrouded in secrecy.

Two separate convoys left Fleury-Merogis in the middle of the night with an escort of elite French officers with blue lights flashing, while a third group of unmarked vehicles left shortly afterwards.

The boyish former bar owner has spent nearly 20 months in isolation under 24-hour video surveillance at Fleury-Merogis, after being transferred to France after his arrest.

At the Brussels court journalists and officials all had to pass through security checks. A police sniffer dog checked the austere courtroom itself, into which journalists were banned from taking phones and computers.

– Shot in the leg –

Investigators believe Abdeslam’s capture three days after the shootout caused members of his jihadist cell to bring forward plans for the attacks in Brussels.

Suicide attacks on March 22, 2016, killed 32 people at Brussels airport and a metro station near the EU headquarters.

The same cell is believed to have been behind both the Paris and Brussels attacks, which were claimed by the Islamic State group.

Police say Abdeslam and Ayari were holed up at the Forest flat when it was raided by French and Belgian police in a routine operation after the Paris attacks.

A third suspect, 33-year-old Algerian Mohamed Belkaid, died while providing covering fire for their escape through a back door.

Police say they found Abdeslam’s fingerprints in the flat, confirming they were on the trail of the last suspect in the rifle and bomb attacks on the Bataclan concert hall, bars, restaurants and the national stadium in the French capital on November 13, 2015.

Abdeslam is reported to have disposed of a suicide belt before fleeing. He is also suspected of being the driver in the attacks, in which his brother Brahim was one of the suicide bombers.

Armed officers shot in the leg and captured him and Ayari just yards from Abdeslam’s home in Molenbeek, a gritty Brussels immigrant neighbourhood.

by Lachlan CARMICHAEL and Alex PIGMAN

Parisian eyes on Brussels court as Bataclan suspect goes on trial — Sole surviving suspect appears in public for the first time on Monday

February 5, 2018

Flowers are tied to a fence outside the ‘Bataclan’ concert hall during All Saints’ day in Paris on November 1, 2016, one of the targets of the November 13, 2015 terrorist attacks during which 130 people were killed and another 413 were wounded


BRUSSELS (Reuters) – More than two years after Islamist militants killed 130 people in their city, Parisians will be hoping for some new insight into the carnage when the sole surviving suspect appears in public for the first time on Monday.

 A police convoy carrying Salah Abdeslam and other members of the trial arrives under police guard at the Brussels Justice Palace in Brussels on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. Salah Abdeslam and Soufiane Ayari face trial for taking part in a shooting incident in Vorst, Belgium on March 15, 2016. The incident took place when six members of a Franco-Belgian research team investigating the attacks in Paris were conducting a search in an allegedly empty safe house of the terrorists and were attacked. Photo: Virginia Mayo, AP / Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Police officers check visitors at the entrance of the courthouse ahead of the trial of Salah Abdeslam, one of the suspects in the 2015 Islamic State attacks in Paris, in Brussels, Belgium February 5, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

But Salah Abdeslam, who goes on trial under high security in his native Brussels in relation to a shooting that preceded his capture and Islamic State suicide bombings there in March 2016, has so far shown little inclination to talk.

Kept under 24-hour suicide watch near Paris, the 28-year-old arrived at the court, Belgian news agency Belga said. Reuters reporters saw a convoy of French security vehicles arrive.

Abdeslam will be ferried daily to the Belgian capital’s Palace of Justice from a French prison just across the border. Hearings are scheduled to last all week in a case related to events four months after the Paris attacks of November 2015.

With a French trial not expected until next year, his Belgian appearance, along with alleged accomplice Sofien Ayari, a 24-year-old Tunisian, will be his first moment in public since his arrest on March 18, 2016, close to his family home in the poor, western Brussels borough of Molenbeek.

Both men face up to 40 years in prison for attempted murder linked to terrorism for shooting at Belgian and French police who raided a suspected hideout in the southern Brussels borough of Forest on March 15, 2016.

 A police convoy carrying Salah Abdeslam and other members of the trial arrives under police guard at the Brussels Justice Palace in Brussels on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. Salah Abdeslam and Soufiane Ayari face trial for taking part in a shooting incident in Vorst, Belgium on March 15, 2016. The incident took place when six members of a Franco-Belgian research team investigating the attacks in Paris were conducting a search in an allegedly empty safe house of the terrorists and were attacked. Photo: Virginia Mayo, AP / Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
A  police convoy carrying Salah Abdeslam and other members of the trial arrives under police guard at the Brussels Justice Palace in Brussels on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. Salah Abdeslam and Soufiane Ayari face trial

Prosecutors say Abdeslam and Ayari slipped away, leaving a third gunman holding out until he was killed by police marksmen.

Lawyers for Abdeslam, a French citizen born to and raised by Moroccan immigrant parents in Brussels, accept he was in Paris on Friday, Nov. 13, when gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 at the Bataclan concert hall, near the national stadium and at cafes and restaurants.

His elder brother, with whom he ran a bar in Brussels, was among those who blew himself up. Prosecutors believe the younger Abdeslam, whom they accuse of running logistics for the attack including ferrying fighters from Syria across Europe, would have met the same fate had his explosive vest not malfunctioned.

How the pair, from a broadly secular background with a history of petty crime, were transformed into alleged cogs within extensive Islamic State cells operating in Belgium and France is unclear. A third brother, who has visited Abdeslam in prison, told a Belgian newspaper in December that he might be preparing to talk, inspired by a devout religious faith.

The trial had been due to start in late December but was delayed after Abdeslam belatedly reappointed a defense counsel, who then requested more time to prepare the case. Lawyers do not rule out that there could be further adjournments this week.

The trial has triggered a high alert in a city where 32 people were killed in suicide bombings at its airport and on its metro system by members of the same Islamic State-inspired group on March 22, 2016. That came four days after Abdeslam’s arrest and was prompted, officials believe, by fears among the Brussels cell that he might betray their plan under interrogation.

More than 100 police are expected to be deployed in and around Brussels’ mammoth 19th-century Palace of Justice, which dominates the skyline over the Renaissance city center.

Writing by Alastair MacdonaldEditing by Sudip Kar-Gupta

‘The Republic as a whole is assaulted’: Macron condemns attack on Jewish child

January 31, 2018


© Patrick Kovarik, AFP | French policemen patrol in a Zone de Securite Prioritaire (ZSP, Priority Security Zone) in Sarcelles, a Parisian suburb, on January 13, 2014.

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2018-01-31

French President Emmanuel Macron has tweeted his dismay after a Jewish child wearing a kippa was struck by two teenagers on Monday in Sarcelles, north of Paris.

“An eight-year-old boy was assaulted today in Sarcelles. Because he was wearing a kippa. Every time a citizen is assaulted on the basis of his age, appearance or faith, the Republic as a whole is assaulted,” Macron declared on Twitter. “And it is the Republic as a whole today especially that stands alongside French people of the Jewish faith to fight these vile acts with them and for them,” the president added.

Un petit garçon de 8 ans a été agressé aujourd’hui à Sarcelles. Parce qu’il portait une kippa. À chaque fois qu’un citoyen est agressé en raison de son âge, de son apparence ou de sa confession, c’est toute la République qu’on agresse. 1/2

Et c’est toute la République qui se dresse particulièrement aujourd’hui aux côtés des Français de confession juive pour combattre avec eux et pour eux chacun de ces actes ignobles. 2/2

The young boy was making his way to a tutoring session when he was assaulted by two teens he believed to be about 15 years old, according to the prosecutor’s office in Pontoise, suburban Paris.

A police source told Agence France-Presse that the boy was knocked to the ground and struck multiple times.

The prosecutor’s office has retained anti-Semitism as a motive in the case, according to Interior Minister Gérard Collomb.

In a statement, the minister condemned “in the very strongest” terms the “cowardly assault” that he said was “contrary to our most fundamental values”. “Since the start of 2018, I have seen anti-Semitic acts multiplying again. I will not be resigned to that because those acts flout our Republic. They tarnish the principles that hold our nation united,” Collomb said.

Sarcelles, nicknamed “Little Jerusalem” due to its large Jewish population, was rocked by anti-Jewish violence during the 2014 war in Gaza.

Several shops were set on fire or vandalised, including a kosher grocery.

A record 7,900 French Jews emigrated to Israel in 2015 following the deadly jihadist shooting at a Parisian kosher supermarket two days after the attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

That exodus has since slowed, but a spate of anti-Semitic attacks since have continued to frighten one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities, numbering an estimated half a million.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

Seine swells higher, keeping Paris on alert

January 28, 2018


© AFP / by Jacques KLOPP | All boat traffic on the Seine in Paris and upstream has been stopped

PARIS (AFP) – The swollen Seine rose even higher on Sunday, keeping Paris on alert, though forecasters said the flooding should peak by the end of the day.The river had risen 11 centimetres (4.3 inches) in 24 hours by Saturday evening, more than four metres above its normal height, causing headaches for commuters as well as people living near its overflowing banks.

Tourists suffered too with the capital’s famous Bateaux Mouches rivercraft out of service, and only emergency services authorised to navigate the Seine.

The Vigicrues flooding agency forecasts the river will peak at 5.95 metres (19.3 feet) overnight, not quite reaching the 2016 high of 6.1 metres, when the Louvre museum was forced to shut for four days.

But the world’s most visited museum was on high alert Sunday, along with the Musee d’Orsay and Orangerie galleries, with the lower level of the Louvre’s Islamic arts wing closed to visitors at least until Monday.

A statue of an Algerian French army soldier from the Crimean War named Zouave that has guarded the river at the Pont d’Alma bridge in central Paris since 1910 was drenched up to the thighs in the muddy waters of the Seine.

Police again warned Parisians against bathing or canoeing in the river, saying it was “forbidden and extremely dangerous”.

– Flooding to recede ‘slowly’ –

More favourable weather is expected for the week ahead, and Vigicrues has lowered its warning level from orange to yellow in several areas upstream of the capital.

But even once the water levels start to recede, forecasters and officials say it will be a slow process, since much of the ground in northern France is already waterlogged.

“If we’re talking about things getting completely back to normal, that’s going to take weeks,” said Jerome Goellner, regional head of environmental services.

Around 1,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in the greater Paris region, according to police, while around 1,500 homes were without electricity.

Some basements in Paris began to see leaks on Friday, and a health centre in the city’s northwestern suburbs, where 86 patients were receiving care, was evacuated because of flooding.

– Neighbourhoods under water –

The December-January period is now the third wettest on record since data collection began in 1900, according to France’s meteorological service.

However, fears of flooding like that of 1910, which saw the Seine rise to 8.62 metres, shutting down much of Paris’s basic infrastructure, appeared unfounded.

A main commuter line, the RER C, has halted service at Paris stops indefinitely, and some expressways that run alongside the Seine have been closed.

In Paris the Seine flows through a deep channel, limiting the potential flooding damage to riverside structures.

But several areas on the city’s outskirts are under water, such as the southern suburb of Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, where some residents were getting around by boat and dozens have been evacuated from their homes.


by Jacques KLOPP

Paris braces for peak flooding as Seine rises

January 27, 2018

Water levels in the Seine River have kept on rising, endangering basements and tunnels in the French capital. The famed Louvre has closed its bottom floor as a precaution, and transport has been disrupted.

Street lamp and tree half-submerged (Reuters/C. Hartmann)

Parisians were on Saturday preparing for the Seine River to rise further as it approached peak levels, with forecasters warning that flood danger both in the French capital and other regions could stay high for the next week.

The Vigicrues flooding agency says the Seine will top out at 5.8 to 6 meters (19 to 19.7 feet) between Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.

Read more: Act now to protect millions from floods — study

Although that is below the 6.2 meters reached two years ago, when two people in the Paris area died and several were injured in flooding, it could still cause problems for transport and those living on the river’s banks.

Image may contain: people standing and outdoor

Paris — Zouave soldier statue at the Pont d’Alma in Paris

Flooding in Paris (Reuters/P. Rossignol)The Zouave soldier statue at the Pont d’Alma is used by Parisians as a flooding gauge

City authorities have closed several tunnels, parks and the bottom floor of the Louvre Museum as precautionary measures, and the Musee d’Orsay and the Orangerie are on high alert.

Roads on the river banks have also been closed to traffic, and seven train stations alongside the river have been shut down. River traffic has been suspended, disappointing tourists eager to take sightseeing cruises.

Other regions worse affected

Because the Seine flows through a deep channel in central Paris, riverside structures there are not in as much danger as in several other areas on the outskirts, where more severe flooding has occurred.

In the southern suburb of Villeneuve-Saint-Georges,  some residents have even been forced to take to boats to get around, and dozens have been evacuated from their homes.

Dog looking at floods (Reuters/C. Hartmann)Villeneuve-Saint-Georges is one of the hardest-hit areas

The Yonne department further to the south in the Seine basin also saw “significant flooding” on Friday, according to authorities, with some 40 roads blocked.

The Saone river is also expected to swell, and a red alert has been issued for the eastern towns of Chalon-sur-Saone and Macon.

The December-January period is now the third-wettest since the beginning of data collection in 1900, according to Meteo France.

tj/rc (AFP, AP)


Photo: WikiCommons


Photo: AFP

The Zouave statue, traditionally used as a gauge to see how high the river is. Before:


Photo: AFP

The peniche boats along the river. Before:

Photo: WikiCommons


Photo: AFP

Pont de Grenelle. Before:


The river banks near the Eiffel Tower. Before:

Photo: Google Maps


Photo: AFP

The Passerelle Leopold-Sedar-Senghoe. Before:


Photo: AFP

The Square du Vert-Galant. Before:

Photo: WikiCommons


Photo: AFP

Paris floods wreak transport havoc for commuters, tourists

January 26, 2018

© Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt, AFP | This photo taken on January 25, 2018, in Paris shows the Eiffel Tower, next to the river Seine, with water touching the Zouave statue of the Pont d’Alma bridge.

Video by Anca ULEA Fanny ALLARD

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2018-01-26

The relentless rain over Paris, which caused the river Seine to burst its banks, has briefly turned transportation in the city into a nightmare for tourists and commuters alike, halting train and boat services, and putting museums on flood alert.

“Of course the floods [have] made us upset because we don’t have the Seine cruises,” a frustrated tourist told FRANCE 24 near the overflowing river, but insisted that did not change how he feels for the city. “I love Paris anyhow,” he said.

Alain Krakovitch, a director of local train operator SNCF Transilien, said his company’s forced halt of parts of the RER C within Paris – a commuter train carrying around half a million passengers per day, passing by world-famous landmarks such as Notre Dame cathedral, the Musée d’Orsay and the Eiffel Tower – “has definitely had an impact on commuters, and tourists too”.

For the latest information on public transport, see

Three charged with Ritz jewellery heist

January 13, 2018


© AFP/File | The jewellery robbery saw a gang armed with hatchets and handguns burst into the hotel on the capital’s  glitzy Place Vendome and smash the display windows of jewellery shops on the ground floor

PARIS (AFP) – Three men were charged and detained Saturday over an audacious jewellery heist at the Ritz hotel in Paris this week, while two other suspects were still on the loose, a judicial source said.The men from the Paris region who are in their 30s and are known to police, were arrested after becoming trapped by locked doors as they tried to flee the five-star hotel.

They were charged with organised theft using weapons, violence and causing damage.

The robbery on Wednesday evening saw a gang armed with hatchets and handguns burst into the hotel on the capital’s glitzy Place Vendome and smash the display windows of jewellery shops on the ground floor.

Wearing balaclavas and gloves, the robbers entered through a rear staff entrance and swiped gems and watches worth over four million euros ($4.8 million). All the loot was recovered, according to the source.

Two further suspects are being sought by police.

Jewels recovered after Paris Ritz heist, two suspects on the run

January 13, 2018


© Thomas Samson, AFP | Armed robbers made off with millions of euros worth of jewellery after smashing the windows of the world-famous Ritz hotel in Paris on January 10


Latest update : 2018-01-13

All of the jewels looted in a multi-million-euro robbery at the Ritz hotel in Paris have been recovered, a source close to the case said Thursday, as a police hunt for two of the robbers continued.

In the latest of a series of audacious heists in France, a gang armed with hatchets and handguns burst into the five-star hotel on the capital’s glitzy Place Vendome on Wednesday evening and smashed the display windows of jewellery shops on the ground floor.

The robbers, wearing balaclavas and gloves, entered through a rear staff entrance and swiped gems and watches worth over four million euros ($4.8 million).

But the plot began to unravel as soon as they attempted to make their getaway, with three men arrested when they came up against locked doors as they tried to flee out the back of the building.

Some of the loot was recovered after being dropped during those arrests, a source told AFP.

The rest of the jewels and watches were found in a bag dropped by one of the two robbers who got away, another source said.

The three arrested men, all around 30 years old, are from the Seine-Saint-Denis area north of Paris, and are “well known to the police for armed robbery, violent crime and receiving stolen goods”, a source close to the inquiry said. Police extended their custody for a further 24 hours on Thursday night.

The incident took place at about 6:30 pm (1730 GMT) as the streets of Paris were busy with people making their way home from work.

A police team in charge of patrolling the square — home to some of Paris’s top jewellers and watchmakers, as well as the justice ministry — was quickly on the scene.

Attractive target

Several luxury brands display their jewels in the storied Ritz, famous as the lodging of choice for Coco Chanel and Ernest Hemingway as well as Britain’s Princess Diana, who spent her final hours there before dying in a car crash in a Paris tunnel in 1997.

The hotel, opened in 1898, has been owned by Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed since 1979.

Wednesday’s robbery took place 18 months after the Ritz’s palatial doors were re-opened to guests following nearly four years of renovations and a massive fire.

On finding their escape route blocked the thieves threw the loot out of a window to two accomplices waiting outside.

One of the two accomplices escaped in a car that was found abandoned north of Paris.

The other made a getaway on a motorbike, dropping a bag of jewels and knocking over a pedestrian while speeding the wrong way up a one-way street.

The hotel’s management has declined to comment on the robbery.

Place Vendome has been the scene of several heists in recent years.

Long list of heists

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb praised officers for quickly apprehending three of the robbers, saying they had “done our police force credit”.

But the audacious strike at one of Paris’s most glamorous hotels could cast a cloud over the Ritz’s image.

France has found itself repeatedly in the headlines for high-profile robberies, particularly in Paris and on the Riviera.

Security around Place Vendome was reinforced in 2014 after five high-end jewellery and watch stores were hit by armed robberies in less than seven months.

The losses in those attacks ranged from 420,000 euros to two million euros.

In October 2016, US reality TV star Kim Kardashian was the target of one of the biggest heists in recent years while attending Paris Fashion Week.

Five men held Kardashian at gunpoint in the luxury apartment where she was staying, making off with a diamond ring and other jewellery valued in total at nine million euros.


Kurds protest in Paris against ‘assassin’ Erdogan

January 6, 2018


© AFP | Thousands of Kurds demonstrated in Paris on Saturday in tribute to three murdered Kurdish rebels; this banner reads: “your silence is due to your complicity”


Thousands of Kurds protested in Paris on Saturday over the failure of the French authorities to convict anyone over the 2013 murders of three female Kurdish rebels in the French capital.

The demonstrators repeatedly chanted “Erdogan, assassin”, in reference to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who held talks with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday.

The bodies of the three women — Sakine Cansiz, a 54-year-old founder of Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Fidan Dogan, 28, and 24-year-old Leyla Soylemez, were found with bullet wounds to the head and neck in central Paris in January 2013.

The Turkish national intelligence agency MIT officially denied any role in the killings, but French investigators at the time concluded Turkish spies were “implicated” in the case, according to a judicial source.

The only suspect, Turkish national Omer Guney, died in prison in late 2016 before his case came to trial.

Ali Dogan, brother of Fidan, demonstrated with other family members and said they “no longer have hope” of justice.

“I watched on television the press conference between Erdogan and Mr Macron yesterday. It’s sad that the president did not mention the murder of my sister… it seems that we are hiding things and France doesn’t want to divulge information to preserve its interests” with Turkey, he told AFP.

The Turkish state has fought a decades-long conflict against the PKK, which has resulted in about 40,000 people being killed since the 1980s.

Meanwhile, the Armenian community in France also expressed anger on Saturday over Erdogan’s visit to Paris, saying it revealed him to be a “dictator”.

“Recep Tayyip Erdogan showed the French his true face, a dictator who expresses himself as if he were in his palace, in defiance of the European standards which he claims to adhere to,” said the Coordinating Council of the Armenian Organisations of France (CCAF).

At a press conference with Macron on Friday, Erdogan lashed out at a French reporter who asked him about claims that Ankara sent arms to Syria.

Erdogan told the journalist he was talking like a member of an outlawed group that he blames for last year’s failed coup in Turkey.

Storm Eleanor forces swathes of Europe to hunker down

January 3, 2018


© AFP / by Joseph Schmid | Part of the scaffolding was torn off a building in Paris on Wednesday as winter storm Eleanor whipped across northern France


Winter storm Eleanor swept into France, Belgium and the Netherlands on Wednesday after tearing through England and Northern Ireland, cutting power to tens of thousands while forcing airports and train services to halt operations.

Heavy winds led the airports in Strasbourg and Basel-Mulhouse on France’s border with Germany and Switzerland to close after gusts of more than 110 kilometres per hour (70 mph) were recorded, France’s civil aviation authority told AFP, before they were reopened shortly after midday.

Nine people were reported injured in France — four critically — and another in the Netherlands after a tree fell on a person in the southern village of Heesch.

At Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, 60 percent of departures were delayed Wednesday morning, as were a third of arrivals, while a handful of flights had to be rerouted before the winds eased back a bit.

The winds were also wreaking havoc with train services in several French regions as officials issued severe weather warnings for 44 departments until early Thursday.

About 200,000 homes across northern France were without electricity, while “particularly intense” flooding was expected on the Atlantic coasts.

The Eiffel Tower, which attracts six million visitors a year, was closed until at least Wednesday afternoon, while worries about falling tree branches prompted Paris officials to close all city parks for the day.

– ‘Woken people up’ –

Eleanor barrelled into continental Europe after whipping across England, Northern Ireland and Ireland, with the Thames Barrier, one of the largest movable flood barriers in the world, closed as a precautionary measure to protect London from swelling tides.

“We have seen some heavy showers push through across the south of the UK along with hail, loud thunder and lightning, which has woken people up,” said meteorologist Becky Mitchell.

Gusts of 160 kmh were recorded at Great Dun Fell in Westmorland, northwest England, while overturned vehicles and trees caused closures of major motorways.

In Ireland, power supply company ESB said electricity had been restored to 123,000 customers, while 27,000 remained without power.

Streets around the docks in Galway on the west coast were flooded after high tides breached the sea defences, prompting the deployment of about two dozen troops to support flood defence efforts.

– Flooding and flight delays –

Belgium was also put on “orange” alert, the third of four warning levels, with officials urging people to exercise caution when venturing out, in particular because of falling tree branches and other objects.

Although the winds eased toward midday, rescue workers in Brussels were kept busy with about 70 calls across the city, mainly after trees were knocked down, and several parks were closed.

In the Netherlands, 252 of about 1,200 flights were cancelled at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, a main European hub, as weather alerts were issued for several regions.

Several main roads and train lines were also closed as officials rushed to prepare flooding defences.

Flights were also disrupted at Frankfurt’s airport in Germany, where the storm has been baptised Burglind, and at Zurich airport, as Swiss officials urged hikers to avoid forest walks.

RTS television reported that about 14,000 homes were without power in several Swiss cantons.

Eleanor is the fourth major storm to hit Europe since December.

Eleanor is now heading for the French Alps, where several ski areas have shut down lifts, and Corsica, where meteorologists are warning of “violent” gusts that could reach 200 kilometres per hour on the island’s northern tip.

Austria is also in its path, where the avalanche risk was expected to be raised to four on a scale of five in several areas Wednesday afternoon.

by Joseph Schmid