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Classes suspended after pupil shooting

France. Lessons stopped for two hours in French schools late last month so that teachers, parents and pupils could discuss school violence.

Education minister Francois Bayrou ordered the suspension of classes after a teenager was accidentally shot and killed by a classmate.

The incident took place at a lower secondary in Montereau-Fault-Yonne, east of Paris. After school a 14-year-old boy was showing off a revolver which belonged to his father, a retired police officer. It went off, hitting 15-year-old Julien in the chest. He died almost at once.

Although it was evidently an accident, Bayrou responded immediately by announcing the cancellation of lessons between 10am and noon on September 20 in all primary and secondary schools, to be replaced by debates around the theme of violence at school and how to prevent it.

He appealed to teachers, parents and young people to struggle against violence at school, and called on "all French society to fight for young people and with young people to re-establish calm in school and in society".

The Montereau-Fault-Yonne tragedy occurred a week after a 15-year-old boy was stabbed to death, apparently without provocation or motive, by another teenager in Marseilles.

Although the circumstances of the incidents were entirely different, Bayrou linked the two killings, saying: "The fact that this act of violence happened outside a school and not inside, whether it was accidental or premeditated, makes no difference."

He repeated his view that violence was a problem of society as a whole, not just school.

The problem of school violence has been one of Bayrou's major preoccupations since a number of schools in "sensitive" areas erupted in a rash of assaults against staff, vandalism and stone-throwing at the beginning of the year.

He has tightened up anti-violence measures, introducing new initiatives at the start of the autumn term.

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