Illegal New Year's Eve party in France that drew 2,500 ends after 36 hours
By RICK NOACK | The Washington Post | Published: January 2, 2021
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PARIS — An illegal New Year's Eve party that drew around 2,500 people to a small French village came to an end Saturday morning, more than 24 hours after authorities had to abort an initial attempt to shut the rave down.
"Sound equipment and generators were seized," France's Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said Saturday morning, adding that the organizers would be "severely punished."
Around 1,200 penalty notices have been issued, local officials said, with most of them being linked to violations of coronavirus restrictions.
Regional authorities set up a coronavirus testing site near the rave's location and urged all participants to quarantine for seven days, amid concerns that the event could worsen an anticipated rise in novel coronavirus infections in the coming weeks.
"We must consider that all the participants in this rave party were exposed," regional health official Stéphane Mulliez told radio network France Bleu.
The party in Lieuron, a village in France's northwestern region of Brittany, had gone ahead despite a nationwide 8 p.m. curfew and other restrictions on large gatherings.
When officers tried to move into the warehouses where the party was taking place on Thursday night, several officers suffered minor injuries in clashes with revelers. A police car was torched.
After the officers retreated, first-aid workers were sent in to distribute masks and hand sanitizer among the partygoers.
Partying continued Friday, even as French officials pleaded with the participants to leave and as inquietude mounted within the French government. Photos from inside the warehouses showed that only a few participants, who included foreigners, wore masks and that social distancing was virtually impossible.
"This gathering," wrote local official Florian Bachelier on Twitter, "shames our country and our caregivers."
Police officers had begun cordoning the site shortly after the party began, in an effort to prevent more people from joining it and to fine those who left.
Despite concerns that officers moving in may cause a mass panic, pressure to end the event - which was originally set to continue until Tuesday - mounted Friday, and France's interior minister called a meeting. France's BFM television channel reported that one scenario involved the deployment of the French military to the party site.
But by Saturday morning, the partygoers had begun to disperse, with some reportedly managing to leave the site without being intercepted by officers stationed around the area.
French officials fear that year-end parties, including the rave in Lieuron, will trigger a surge in new infections in the coming weeks.
France lifted some coronavirus restrictions - including its nighttime curfew - for Christmas Eve, despite a warning from the government-advising Scientific Council that family reunions and parties may spark an "uncontrolled resumption of the epidemic" this month.
France reported over 19,000 new coronavirus infections on Friday, fewer than during the peak of the second wave in November but almost four times more than the target of 5,000 that the government had set.
As a result, France has called off the easing of existing restrictions. Some parts of the country face additional measures, with an extended nighttime curfew beginning at 6 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. set to take effect Saturday.