Bombing plague hits Nice

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PARIS - Authorities in Nice have called in police reinforcements after 11 bombs exploded in the city over the past month, writes Julian Nundy.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which have hit targets as diverse as a court-house, a snack-bar, a video shop, an accountancy firm and lawyers' offices. At first, police said they thought the bombs might have been planted by Corsican separatists. Now they admit they have no clues to point towards either political or purely criminal motives.

None of the attacks caused any injuries but the last two were more violent and threatening than the others. One set fire to a baker's shop on Wednesday and flats above were cut off by the blaze. Early on Friday, a bomb outside a snack-bar had a manhole cover placed over it. When the bomb exploded, this fragmented into deadly shrapnel smashing nearby windows and damaging cars.

Adding to police difficulties are the different types of explosives used. Cylinders of butane gas were used at the baker's shop, plastic explosives at the snack-bar. At the weekend 300 CRS riot police were called in to patrol the city.

With the Mardi Gras carnival this month, in a season which already stretches the police because it brings hundreds of pickpockets into town, and general elections in two months, investigators fear the attacks may escalate. Nice has been an uneasy city since Jacques Medecin, the long-time mayor, fled to Uruguay to escape tax evasion charges in 1990 and several politicians seek to take his place.

Christian Estrosi, a Gaullist MP for Nice and a likely candidate for mayor, blamed 'the off-handedness and the inability of the Interior Minister to face up to his responsibilities'. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front who is trying to turn Nice into his fiefdom and is standing for a Nice constituency in the March parliamentary elections, said he did not believe the attacks were political.