Mass New Year party breaks up in France amid coronavirus fears

Police shut down huge party in northwestern France that had been underway since New Year’s Eve in defiance of a curfew.

The first revellers began leaving the site before dawn on Saturday [Jean-Francois Monier/AFP]

Revellers on Saturday began leaving an illegal New Year rave party in northwestern France that drew about 2,500 people, led to clashes with police and sparked concerns it could spread the coronavirus.

Police had failed to stop the underground event, set up in two warehouses in Lieuron, south of Rennes in Brittany on Thursday.

Such mass gatherings are strictly prohibited across France to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and a nationwide 8:00pm (19:00 GMT) curfew, which was not lifted for New Year, applies across the country.

The local prefecture said on Saturday the music had been switched off after two nights and the first revellers began leaving the site before dawn.

“There has been no intervention by security forces,” it said in a statement, but added that police were checking all those leaving the site.

Only “a few hundred” revellers remained, the prefecture said, quoting an association that oversees the security risks of such events.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Twitter that the large police presence at the site had led to the breakup of the rave “without violence”.

About half of the car park at the site was empty Saturday morning, according to AFP news agency.

A woman poses for the photographer during the party in a disused hangar in Lieuron [Jean-Francois Monier/AFP]

Local gendarmes tried to “prevent this event but faced fierce hostility from many partygoers” who set one of their cars on fire and threw bottles and stones, the prefecture said in a statement.

Those present had come from across France and even abroad, it said.

Prosecutors have opened an investigation into the illegal organisation of a musical gathering and premeditated violence against people in authority.

Participants interviewed by AFP said the revellers had included partygoers from foreign countries, including Spain and the United Kingdom.

One participant, who gave his name as Jo from the Alsace region of eastern France and refused to be identified further, said they had all met at a designated spot on Thursday evening in the parking lot of a shopping centre.

Then the convoy headed for Lieuron where the police tried to prevent them from passing, he said.

He also acknowledged that “very few had respected social distancing” at the event.

Vehicles registered from all over France were parked at the site [Jean-Francois Monier/AFP]

French authorities have been worried about mass rave parties throughout the pandemic, but New Year’s night was a particular concern.

In the southern city of Marseille, security forces halted an illegal party of about 300 people, police said.

More than 150 people were warned, and the three suspected organisers were arrested.

France’s cumulative total of cases stands at 2,697,014, the fifth highest in the world.

President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday said everyone in France should be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine if they want it, amid broad criticism over the slowness of the vaccination programme.

The party began on December 31 evening in Lieuron [Jean-Francois Monier/AFP]
Source: News Agencies