Man kills himself inside Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris

media captionDominique Venner, an award-winning far-right historian, shot himself inside the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris

A man has killed himself inside the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris in the French capital, causing its evacuation.

The man pulled out a shotgun and shot himself through the mouth beside the main altar shortly after 16:00 (14:00 GMT) - in front of some 1,500 people.

He was later named by police as 78-year-old Dominique Venner, an award-winning far-right historian.

Mr Venner had recently been involved in the campaign against the government's decision to legalise gay marriage.

On Saturday, President Francois Hollande signed the bill into law.

'Political gesture'

The police said Mr Venner had made no statement before killing himself, although a note was found next to his body. They did not disclose its contents.

image captionDominique Venner's latest blog entry condemned the government's decision to legalise gay marriage

Earlier on Tuesday, he had written on his blog a critique of the same-sex marriage bill.

"New spectacular and symbolic actions are needed to wake up the sleepwalkers and shake the anaesthetised consciousness," he wrote.

"We are entering a time when acts must follow words."

Mr Venner is also a former member of the Secret Army Organisation (OAS), which opposed Algerian independence in the early 1960s and tried to assassinate Charles De Gaulle.

Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front leader, paid tribute to Mr Venner, describing his suicide as a political gesture aimed at "waking up the people of France".

The BBC's Christian Fraser in Paris says Notre-Dame is the most visited landmark in France, attracting more than 13 million visitors each year, but security is relatively relaxed.

It would not be difficult to conceal a weapon in a shoulder bag, he says.

The cathedral is celebrating its 850th year, and at the time of Mr Venner's death.

Police said the evacuation began immediately, that there were no further problems, and that the cathedral for the moment remained closed.

"It's unfortunate, it's dramatic, it's shocking," the rector of Notre-Dame, Monsignor Patrick Jacquin, told the Associated Press news agency.

This was the first suicide in decades at the cathedral, he said. A few people had jumped to their deaths from Notre-Dame's twin towers, but no-one was thought to have killed themselves at the altar before, he added.

"We will pray for this man, as for so many others at their end."

Last Thursday, a 50-year-old man with a history of mental problems killed himself with a sawn-off shotgun in front of a dozen children at a private Catholic school next to the Eiffel Tower.

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