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Saturday, 29 September, 2001, 19:40 GMT 20:40 UK
Mass protest over French factory blast
police investigators at scene of blast
The authorities believe the explosion was an accident
More than 15,000 people have demonstrated in the city of Toulouse in southwestern France, demanding that potentially hazardous factories be relocated away from residential areas after a chemical plant blew up, killing 29 people.

The demonstrators - led by ecology activists - marched to the devastated AZF chemical plant, which blew up on 21 September, damaging some 10,000 homes. The plant is situated about 3 km (two miles) outside the city.

demonstrators in Toulouse
The blast made about 7,000 people temporarily redundant
A large white banner was held aloft saying "never again, neither here, nor anywhere else".

The marchers took a petition to the city hall demanding that the plant be permanently shut down.

The city's chief prosecutor has said he will open a manslaughter inquiry on the basis that criminal negligence could have been behind the explosion, which also injured about 2,500 people.

According to the official explanation, a warehouse containing 300 tonnes of ammonium nitrate self-combusted at the factory.


The French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, has announced a 230m euro ($210m) aid package to deal with the aftermath of the disaster.

Some French newspapers have quoted leading scientists as saying the chemical involved was a relatively stable product and there was no precedent for such a spontaneous explosion.

The city's mayor, Philippe Douste-Blazy, has called for such plants to be relocated away from residential areas.

When it was originally built in the 1920s, the factory was far from inhabited areas, but as the city grew, that soon changed.

The Green Party has long argued that the factory should be closed down.

The explosion scattered debris over a wide area and gouged out a 50m (164 feet) wide crater.

AZF was the biggest fertiliser producer in France.

Hundreds of local residents were left homeless by the explosion and they have been given temporary lodging in local gymnasiums.

The oil giant TotalFinaElf, the parent company of the plant's owner, has set up a fund for victims of the blast.

See also:

22 Sep 01 | Europe
Anger at Toulouse blast location
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