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Last Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005, 21:50 GMT 22:50 UK
Paris fire relatives blame government
Catherine Zemmouri
BBC News, Paris

Man crying at site of Paris fire
An inquiry is to be launched into housing conditions for immigrants
Niakate Gagni, a 50-year-old Malian, is standing in front of the six-floor- building, cordoned off by French police.

The original white colour of the building has turned black in many spots, mainly around what is left of the windows.

The fire has destroyed the place many Senegalese, Ivorian, Gambian and Malian people called home.

Gagni is standing by a mattress and children's toys that belonged to his dead family. There is no sadness on his face, nor anger.

It is very painful, it is revolting - it is actually worse than the previous fire in April
Senegalese woman
He shows no emotions after being told he has lost seven members of his family, among them five children, and that an eighth relative - his nephew - is still in a coma at the hospital.

For Gagni, the blame lies squarely with the French government.

"They had been staying in this place for 14 years now," he said.

"They asked for another place to stay, but the French government didn't give it to them.

"It is the second time that this kind of thing has happened in France.

"This is the fault of the housing minister. I think they are doing this on purpose, because there are flats available elsewhere."

The Malian Foreign Affairs Minister, Moktar Ouane, who happened to be in Paris on an official visit, arrived at the scene a few hours later.

He tried to comfort Gagni while expressing sadness at the loss of eight Malians.

'Revolting'

Standing next to the minister was a Gambian citizen who still did not know if his brother and his wife were dead or alive.

A very angry 20-year-old Senegalese woman expressed her disgust at the way Africans are treated in France.

"I knew many children from this building," she said.

"It is very painful, it is revolting - it is actually worse than the previous fire in April. It is just revolting.

"The French government clearly has to do something."

Among the 17 people that died were 14 children.

They were staying on the top floor, where they apparently found themselves trapped.

I would like the problem of housing not to be dealt with by Paris alone
Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe
There was no emergency exit. The only way out of the building was the main staircase - but it had burned down.

The Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, told the BBC it was known that the building was in a very bad condition.

"It's a very painful situation - it's again about death and families that have been destroyed," he said.

"I would like the problem of housing not to be dealt with by Paris alone.

"I put a request about this to the authorities following the first fire that took place a couple of months ago. I hope this time they will listen to what I'm saying."

In the meantime thousands of immigrants, mainly from Africa, continue to live in dangerous buildings.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See firefighters help people from the burning building




SEE ALSO:
In pictures: Paris blaze
26 Aug 05 |  In Pictures
Country profile: France
05 Jul 05 |  Country profiles


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