French grandfather killed trying to stop robbers

MARIGNANE, Bouches-du-Rhône (AFP) - A French pensioner has been killed in front of his wife and granddaughter while trying to stop two robbers fleeing on a scooter after holding up a tobacconist.

Mr Jacques Blondel, a 61-year-old retired Air France employee, was gunned down in the streets of Marignane, a suburb of the southern port city of Marseille, after confronting the robbers on Thursday night.

Hailed as a hero by the interior minister and local officials, Blondel attempted to intervene after spotting the robbers fleeing the tobacco shop, several witnesses said.

He rammed their scooter with his car, knocking them down, then emerged with a baseball bat and a bottle of pepper-spray.

He tried to reason with them and grabbed for the gun of one of the robbers.

After firing once in the air, the robber shot Mr Blondel twice, in the thigh and the stomach.

As the robbers escaped, Mr Blondel's wife - a nurse who was in the car with him along with their 15-month-old granddaughter - tried to treat his wounds, but he died later in hospital.

One of the suspected robbers, believed to be the gunman, was later arrested near Marignane and placed under formal detention, police said. The other was still at large.

The town of 34,000 was in mourning on Friday, with flags flying at half-mast and local mayor Eric Le Disses telling AFP: "He paid for his act of courage with his life."

Interior Minister Manuel Valls also praised Mr Blondel.

"I salute the courage of this man. What he did was an act of bravery that commands respect," Mr Valls told journalists, saying Mr Blondel's death should be a "wake-up call" in the face of rising crime.

The killing came French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault vowed action this week to fight rampant street crime in and around Marseille, where there have been 13 gang-related murders so far this year.

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