French police kill Strasbourg Christmas market gunman
Patrick HERTZOG (AFP)
The gunman who killed three people at a Christmas market in Strasbourg was shot dead by French police on Thursday as the Islamic State jihadist group claimed him as one of its "soldiers".
More than 700 French security forces had been hunting for 29-year-old Cherif Chekatt since the bloodshed on Tuesday night -- the latest in a string of jihadist attacks to rock France.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said three police tried to question Chekatt after spotting him "wandering" through the streets in the Neudorf area of the northeastern French city where he grew up, but he opened fire.
"They immediately returned fire and neutralized the assailant," Castaner said.
People gathered at the police cordon where Chekatt was shot and applauded, some shouting "bravo!", a source said.
The propaganda wing of the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack.
The perpetrator of "the attack in the city of Strasbourg... is one of the soldiers of the Islamic State and carried out the operation in response to calls to target nationals of the coalition" against IS, the Amaq agency said in a message posted on Twitter.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced that the Strasbourg Christmas market would reopen on Friday.
French President Emmanuel Macron expressed "the solidarity of the whole country" towards the victims as he arrived for a European summit in Brussels.
"It is not only France that has been hit... but a great European city as well," he added, referring to the seat of the European parliament in the eastern French city that lies on the border with Germany.
- Plea to 'yellow vests' -
As police hunted Chekatt, the French government urged "yellow vest" protesters not to hold another round of demonstrations this weekend, given the strain on the country's security forces.
Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux called on the anti-government protesters to be "reasonable" and not protest again Saturday, after nearly four weeks of often violent demonstrations which has led the government to offer a range of financial relief to low earners.
"Our security forces have been deployed extensively these past few weeks," Griveaux told CNews television.
"It would be better if everyone could go about their business calmly on Saturday, before the year-end celebrations with their families, instead of demonstrating and putting our security forces to work once again," he added.
The "yellow vest" protesters, known for their fluorescent high-visibility jackets, had called for a fifth round of protests this Saturday.
The protests began on November 17 over fuel tax increases, but snowballed into a revolt over living standards as well as Macron's perceived indifference to the problems of ordinary citizens.
Underscoring attempts to ease tensions, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe confirmed a proposed constitutional reform, which was to be debated in January, had been postponed to allow time for more discussions over local grievances.
Some union leaders also put pressure on "yellow vests" not to demonstrate on Saturday so they would not overburden police as they dealt with security after the Strasbourg attack.
But some "yellow vest" demonstrators dismissed calls to suspend protests.
A 23-year-old protester was killed after he was hit by a truck on a roundabout in southern France near Avignon late on Thursday, the sixth person to have died during the weeks of demonstrations.
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