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Fire out, organ intact but work ahead for charred Notre Dame

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  • PARIS — Firefighters declared success Tuesday morning in an over 12-hour battle to extinguish an inferno engulfing Paris’ iconic Notre Dame cathedral that claimed its spire and roof, but spared its bell towers.

    What remained was a blackened shell of the monument immortalized in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” a building that had survived almost 900 years of tumultuous French history but was devastated amid renovation works at the start of Catholic Easter week.

    Its iconic twin bell towers remained visibly intact. Paris officials said the world famous 18th century organ that boasts 8,000 pipes also appeared to have survived, along with other treasures inside the cathedral, after a plan to safeguard heritage was quickly put into action.

    At dawn, the twin 69-meter towers swarmed with building specialists and architects, looking tiny from the ground as they conducted analysis.

    “The entire fire is out,” declared Paris firefighters’ spokesman Gabriel Plus, adding that workers were currently “surveying the movement of structures and extinguishing smouldering residues.”

    “The task is — now the risk of fire has been put aside — about the building, how the structure will resist,” said Junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez in front of the cathedral.

    One of the city’s five senior vicars, Philippe Marsset, told AP: “If God intervened (in the blaze) it was in the courage of the firefighters.”

    “Notre Dame was destroyed but the soul of France was not,” Michel Aupetit, archbishop of Paris, said on RMC radio.

    Officials consider the fire an accident, possibly as a result of the restoration work taking place at the global architectural treasure, but that news has done nothing to ease the national mourning.

    “Notre Dame has survived the revolutionary history of France, and this happened during building works,” said influential former Culture Minister Jack Lang.

    French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to rebuild the cathedral that he called “a part of us” and appealed for help to do so.

    As the country woke up in collective sadness, its richest businessman, Bernard Arnault, and his luxury goods group LVMH answered that call with a pledge of 200 million euros ($226 million).

    A communique said that the Arnault family was “in solidarity with this national tragedy, and join in the reconstruction of this extraordinary cathedral, a symbol of France, of its heritage and togetherness.”

    Businessman Francois-Henri Pinault and his billionaire father Francois Pinault also said they were immediately giving 100 million euros from their company, Artemis, to help finance repairs.

    A statement from Francois-Henri Pinault said “this tragedy impacts all French people” and “everyone wants to restore life as quickly as possible to this jewel of our heritage.”

    The 12th-century church is home to relics, stained glass and other works of art of incalculable value, and is a leading tourist attraction. Its organ dates to the 1730s and was constructed by Francois Thierry.

    “The organ is a very fragile instrument, especially its pipes. It has not burnt, but no one can tell whether it has been damaged by water. Nobody knows if it is a functioning state or will need to be restored,” Bertrand de Feydeau, a senior French heritage preservation official, told the AP.

    Paris Deputy Mayor Emmanuel Gregoire described authorities’ “enormous relief” at the salvaging of pieces such as the purported Crown of Christ, which were quickly transported to a “secret location” by officials after the fire.

    Religious statues that were removed last week from the cathedral roof as part of a restoration of the monumental Paris church’s towering spire were also spared.

    The 3-meter-tall copper figures, which looked over the city from Notre Dame’s 96-meter-high peak, were sent to southwestern France for work that is part of a 6 million-euro ($6.8 million) renovation project on the cathedral spire and its 250 tons of lead.

    On Thursday, the public got a first ground-level look at the statues, representing the 12 apostles and four evangelists, when a huge crane lowered them onto a truck.

    ___

    John Leicester contributed to this story.

    Thomas Adamson, The Associated Press






































































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    Ceremonies, vigils planned in Toronto to honour victims of deadly van attack

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  • TORONTO — Ceremonies and vigils are planned today to honour those killed or injured in last year’s deadly van attack in north Toronto.

    The City of Toronto is holding an event at the Mel Lastman Square Amphitheatre at 1:30 p.m. to coincide with the time of the April 23, 2018 incident that left 10 dead and 16 injured.

    In the hours before the ceremony, the city is expected to install temporary signs in the area to commemorate what it has dubbed the “Yonge Street Tragedy” until permanent memorials are created.

    The city says consultations on the memorials will begin this spring.

    Events are also planned elsewhere in the neighbourhood where the attack took place.

    The Willowdale community is hosting a moment of silence, an evening vigil and a free dinner, among other events.

    It is also bringing in trauma counsellors and therapy dogs for those who need support.

    The city was gripped with grief in the wake of the attack and more than $4 million was raised in support of the victims and their families.

    Alek Minassian, 26, is charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.

    He is set to face trial next February. 

    The Canadian Press


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    New commemorative loonie marking ‘progress’ for LGBTQ2 people to be unveiled today

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  • TORONTO — The Royal Canadian Mint is unveiling a new commemorative loonie today meant to mark what it calls a key milestone for lesbian, gay, transgender, queer and two-spirited people in the country.

    The agency says the new one-dollar coin pays tribute to Parliament’s passing of legislation that “initiated the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada.”

    It says the coin, which will be presented in Toronto today, celebrates “50 years of progress for LGBTQ2 Canadians.”

    But historians and advocates are raising concerns about the message behind the new loonie, saying it mistakenly suggests equality has been achieved and largely as a result of the federal government’s actions.

    A group of activists and academics is holding a news conference near the mint’s event today to challenge myths surrounding the 1969 Criminal Code reform.

    York University historian Tom Hooper, who is part of the group, says LGTBTQ people faced continued criminalization over the decades that followed the legal changes.

    He said discrimination against LGBTQ people persists today, noting as examples that trans and queer people of colour still face issues with policing and people with HIV remain subject to criminalization.

    The mint “could have consulted people who have knowledge of this history but they didn’t,” Hooper said, adding he hopes the agency will do so in the future.

    He acknowledged no campaign can compete with roughly three million coins but said the project is at least fuelling a public conversation about LGBTQ history.

    “As a historian, I’m hoping to inform as many people as I can about our history. So in some ways the coin is opening up that opportunity,” he said.

    The mint has said it is largely informed by the Department of Canadian Heritage and its “anniversaries of significance” when it comes to selecting commemorative themes for coins.

    The Canadian Press


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