LIEURON, FRANCE - More than 1,200 revelers were booked for breaking coronavirus restrictions as an illegal rave in northwestern France ended Saturday after more than two days of partying that saw clashes with police.
Police had failed to stop the underground event, which drew around 2,500 people from Thursday night to two empty warehouses in Lieuron, south of the city of Rennes in Brittany.
But the prosecutor’s office said police had detained two people, neither of whom had any previous convictions, as part of efforts to identify the organizers.
They were also searching one address and had so far turned up a sum of money that appeared to be part of the proceeds from the event, and drugs, prosecutor Philippe Astruc said.
Police seized the material and booked more than 1,200 for a variety of offenses, he added.
Such mass gatherings are banned across France to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and a nationwide 8 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew has been in force across the country.
Techno music blared from the warehouses, which had been transformed into illegal nightclubs for partygoers who flocked to the site from across France and even from abroad.
The local prefecture said Saturday that the music had been switched off and sound systems dismantled after two nights, and the first revelers began leaving the site before dawn.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said in a tweet that police had seized a truck, sound equipment and generators from the site of the illegal rave.
The large police presence at the site had led to the breakup of the event "without violence," he added.
The regional prefect, Emmanuel Berthier, said 800 people had been booked specifically for coronavirus-related offenses such as failing to respect the curfew restrictions or wear masks, or for participating in an illegal assembly.
Police had fined several hundred others for use of narcotics, he told reporters.
'We had to party'
Police on access roads were checking all those leaving the site, on foot or in vehicles, looking for signs of drugs or drug use, an AFP photographer said.
Police reinforcements continued to arrive and close off the site Saturday morning, the photographer said.
"It's been a year since we could do anything," said partygoer Antoine, 24. The salesman was part of a group of five from Brittany who attended the rave.
With beers still in their hands, the group members said they "had come to celebrate the 31st here because it was a huge party."
"We knew what we were risking. ... We had to party. For a year everything has been stuck," said a 20-year-old waitress in the group.
Alexis, 22, a baker, said that "at one point you say to yourself, 'I am going to force my New Year.’ "
He added that the rave had even been reported in The New York Times, saying "it was the biggest party of the year."
'Lives in danger'
French authorities have been worried about mass parties throughout the pandemic, but New Year's Eve was a particular concern.
Police tried Thursday night to "prevent the event but faced fierce hostility from many partygoers" who set one of their cars on fire and threw bottles and stones, the prefecture said Friday.
First aid workers had distributed hand gel and masks at the event to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
The regional health authority in Brittany noted the "high risk of the spread of COVID-19" at the event and called on those who took part to undergo coronavirus tests and self-isolate immediately for seven days.
The prefecture said in a tweet that a testing center had been set up in a gymnasium in Lieuron.
"They have put their lives in danger, their health. They must now protect those around them," it said.
The French government, facing the threat of a new wave of COVID-19 infections, announced Friday that it was extending its overnight curfew by two hours in 15 regions to help combat the virus, starting it at 6 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.
As of Saturday afternoon, the country’s total number of cases stood at more than 2.7 million, and it was closing in on 65,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.