French officials say medical staff narrowly averted “a catastrophe” after May Day demonstrators reportedly stormed a Paris hospital and attempted to force their way into an intensive care unit.
About 50 protesters – some wearing gilets jaunes (yellow vests) and others with masks – entered the hospital after a riot police officer was admitted with injuries after being hit in the face by a paving stone towards the end of a traditional union-led 1 May march.
Staff at the Pitié Salpêtrière hospital said they stopped a group of protesters entering the emergency ward, but other intruders smashed computers and damaged equipment.
Police are holding 30 people in custody in connection with events at the hospital.
Afterwards, a number of protesters claimed on social media that marchers only entered the hospital to escape CRS riot police charges, water cannon and clouds of teargas.
Some accused French officials and media of exaggerating events at the hospital after the interior minister, Christophe Castaner, described the intrusion as an “attack” and blamed “anti-capitalist, ultra-left militants” from the Black Bloc movement.
Prof Mathieu Raux, an anaesthetist at Pitié Salpêtrière, said everyone at the hospital was shocked.
“Around 20 protesters tried to get into the intensive care unit using the emergency exit, while staff on the other side of the door were telling them not to because the people inside are in a weak state and their lives at risk, plus they need rest and calm, Raux told BFMTV.
He said medical staff held on to the door until the police arrived.
“They stopped the protesters from opening the door and asked them not to come in explaining it was a hospital and an emergency service,” he added.
Raux said staff discovered the marauding protestors had vandalised computers in the surgical department.
“The staff did their work helping and protecting and caring for the the sick. Everyone is shocked. We’ve never known anyone come into a hospital to attack it. I don’t know what their intention was but this is a hospital, a sanctuary, a place to rest, not a place to come in to smash things and vandalise.”
Marie-Anne Ruder, the director of Pitié Salpêtrière said staff had prevented protesters entering the intensive care unit and had prevented the door being forced.
Martin Hirsch of the Paris hospital authority said “catastrophe was narrowly averted” at what he described as “the heart of one of the best hospitals in Europe”.
“There could have been an unimaginable drama,” Hirsch added. “There were a number of people who tried to force a door behind which they could see nurses shouting: “Attention, sick patients, danger!”
Hirsch said a number of videos of protesters entering the hospital taken by staff had been handed to police.
“I’m not accusing anyone,” Hirsch told France TV calling on protesters to recall their “solidarity and values … and avoid extreme actions”.
The Pitié Salpêtrière university hospital was where Diana, Princess of Wales, died after a road crash in Paris in August 1997.
Police said 16,000 protesters took part in the Paris May Day march, while others estimated the attendance to be 40,000 and the union organisers 80,000. Official figures suggested 164,000 attended protests across France.
Philippe Martinez, the head of the powerful CGT union that led the traditional May Day march, accused the government and forces of law and order of provocation in Paris.
“They fired teargas at the CGT … and we were clearly identifiable,” Martinez said.