Activist kills himself in Notre Dame Cathedral

A far-right writer and activist has killed himself at the altar of Paris' famed Notre Dame Cathedral, after calling for "spectacular" action to protect France's identity.

Police confirmed he was Dominique Venner, 78, an essayist and activist linked with France's far-right and nationalist groups.

In a final essay on his website, he railed against France's adoption of a "vile law" legalising gay marriage and adoption, urging activists to act to protect "French and European identities".

His suicide was hailed by Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National (FN), as a political gesture.

"All respect to Dominique Venner whose final, eminently political act was to try to wake up the people of France," Le Pen said on Twitter, although she added later that "it is in life and hope that France will renew and save itself."

Bruno Gollnisch, an FN stalwart, said Venner's "dramatic act was a protest against the decay of our society".

Police said about 1500 people were in the cathedral, which was evacuated without incident.

The rector of the cathedral, Monsignor Patrick Jacquin, told AFP that Venner had laid a letter on the altar before killing himself. A police source said the letter contained similar writings to those on Venner's website.

"We did not know him, he was not a regular at the cathedral," Jacquin said, adding that he believed it was the first time anyone had committed suicide inside the cathedral.

Venner had a long career publishing right-wing essays, military histories and books on weaponry and hunting.

He was a soldier during France's war in Algeria and a member of the OAS (Secret Armed Organisation), a short-lived paramilitary group that opposed Algeria's independence from France.

The Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral on an islet on the River Seine is one of the most visited sites in Paris, attracting 13.6 million visitors in 2011. This year it celebrates its 850th anniversary.


Where to get help:

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