March 9, 2006

Ex-teacher takes pupils hostage in French school

NANTES, France (Reuters) - An armed, unemployed teacher
took 20 pupils and three adults hostage at his former school in
western France on Thursday, local officials said.

Police surrounded the secondary school in Sable-sur-Sarthe
in western France and established contact with the man, who
barricaded the pupils aged 17 to 18, a teacher and two other
adults into a classroom.

Other pupils were evacuated from the school and a hotline
was set up for anxious parents.

A spokesman for the town authorities in Sable-sur-Sarthe
said the man was a 33-year-old supply teacher who had recently
worked at the Colbert de Torcy school but was now out of work,
and was carrying a hand gun.

"The man wants to talk to the press about job problems,"
the spokesman said.

Local officials initially put the number of hostages at 18
pupils and two adults, but later raised the number.

The mayor of Sable-sur-Sarthe, about 220 km (140 miles)
southwest of Paris and 100 km east of the city of Nantes, is
Francois Fillon, a former education minister.

The drama comes at a sensitive time for conservative Prime
Minister Dominique de Villepin, who is under pressure over an
unpopular youth job creation plan.

Aides said Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy was monitoring
the situation during a visit to the French Antilles Islands but
he announced no plans to cut short his trip.

Sarkozy was mayor of the Paris suburb of Neuilly when a man
took children hostage at a local school in May 1993.

Sarkozy helped negotiate with the hostage-taker before
crack police broke into a classroom, killed the man and freed
the remaining hostages. The other hostages had been gradually
released as a result of the negotiations.