French teenager sets himself on fire at school

Boy critically ill after incident in Marseille as police investigate possible link to protests in north Africa

A French teenager is in a critical condition in hospital after setting fire to himself at his school in Marseille.

The 17-year-old suffered second and third-degree burns over almost three quarters of his body after setting himself alight in the second-floor toilets of his private lycée.

Police are investigating whether it was a copycat immolation linked to similar high-profile incidents in north Africa, including one that sparked the revolution in Tunisia.

Muhammad Bouazizi killed himself in a symbolic protest in front of his local police station last month after officers confiscated the fruit and vegetables he was selling from an unauthorised stand. His death led to unrest that in turn brought about the overthrow of the Tunisian president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Police in Marseille are trying to establish whether the teenager had written a note explaining his actions. They said there were no clues yet as to why he had burned himself.

The French education minister, Luc Chatel, expressed “deep sorrow” over the incident. “The minister has asked the education inspector to go to the scene to help the school community in this difficult moment,” said the ministry in a statement. “Luc Chatel sends the pupil’s family his support.”

According to a fellow pupil, the boy was in his first year of a three-year baccalaureate programme. He was reported to be troubled by difficulties at school and the separation of his parents.

Pupils in a nearby classroom heard his screams and rushed out to find the boy engulfed in flames descending the stairs into the courtyard, where he collapsed. A teacher was reported to have put out the flames and paramedics took him to hospital, where he was said to be “in a very grave and life-threatening condition”.

The local prosecutor Jacques Dallest said: “He collapsed in front of several witnesses and had the time to say a few words. He said he’d had enough, that was the expression he used..” He said the boy could have been influenced “by what he could have seen in the media about north Africa”.

Last November a lycée student from Bordeaux set fire to himself. He remains in hospital in a coma.

At least 10 cases of self-immolation have been reported in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania amidgrowing unrest in the region. A man attempted to set fire to himself in front of the council of ministers in Cairo, Egypt, today.

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