PARIS, Nov 15, 2009 (AFP) - French authorities planned legal action against an Internet company on Sunday after it organised a cash giveaway in Paris that turned into a security nightmare when thousands of people showed up.
The Rentabiliweb firm was forced to cancel the publicity event advertised on its Mailorama site when a crowd of about 7,000 gathered near the Eiffel Tower on Saturday, several thousand more than expected.
For weeks, the website had invited people to come to the Champs de Mars park where several girls traveling in a double-decker bus were to distribute 5,000 envelopes, each containing between five and 500 euros (seven to 700 dollars).
Hundreds of people began arriving as early as 6 am and when police set up metal barriers to try to contain the crowd, scuffles broke out.
At around 11 am (1000 GMT), just one hour before the cash-carrying bus was to roll out into the streets, the organisers announced that the event was canceled due to security concerns.
"We were a victim of our success," said event organiser Stephane Boukris, who said the money would instead be donated to charity.
Disappointed youth ransacked a nearby supermarket and hurled fruit at the rows of riot police dispatched to the scene, before overturning a car and attacking a photographer, press reports said.
About twelve people were detained in connection with the violence. Nine of them remained under arrest on Sunday.
The interior ministry said it planned to lodge a formal complaint against the organiser of the event "who started the trouble", a police spokesman said.
Police said they had told the event organiser that giving out money as a means of advertising was illegal and stressed it could be a risk to public order.
Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe condemned "in the firmest manner the shocking stunt that was organised at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and which triggered an unfortunate outbreak of violence," his spokesman said.
The company expressed regret over the bad turn of events but said it had taken all necessary precautions to avoid violence and ensure the cash giveaway would go smoothly.
Rentabiliweb said Mailorama had received written authorisation to hold the event on the Champs de Mars, a park near the Eiffel Tower.
Despite drizzling rain and biting cold, many would-be prize winners had set out at the crack of dawn from the poor Paris suburbs for the cash giveaway.
"I don't believe in Santa Claus but a little 100-euro bill wouldn't hurt," commented Francoise, an unemployed worker in her fifties.
Gerard, a Parisian in his forties who had turned up to get his hands on the free cash, wondered "if it wasn't actually a hoax."
"What is certain, is that they have got a lot of publicity from it," he added.