PARIS – France's army chief resigned Tuesday following a weekend military show in which 16 people were shot and wounded when real bullets were used instead of blanks.
President Nicolas Sarkozy accepted Gen. Bruno Cuche's resignation, Sarkozy's office said Tuesday, and the country's defense minister suspended the use of blank munitions at public military shows.
Meanwhile, the soldier who fired the bullets was handed preliminary charges for involuntary injury. The 28-year-old was taken into custody soon after Sunday's display of hostage-freeing techniques at the Laperrine military barracks in southern France, in which 16 people were hit with real bullets.
Most of those injured were civilians, and three were children. Officials at a hospital in Toulouse, where five of the victims are being treated, said Tuesday their condition was "stable." A day earlier, hospital officials had said that none of the injuries appeared life-threatening.
Officials had earlier said 17 people were injured, but Montpellier Prosecutor Brice Robin on Tuesday put the total at 16.
In a statement Tuesday, Cuche said his decision to resign was a direct response to Sunday's incident.
"As the military chief, I must fully accept my responsibilities," the statement said.
Speaking on France-Info radio, Defense Minister Herve Morin praised Cuche, the general who resigned, as "a man with a conscience" who had made the decision to resign himself and had not been forced out.
"He felt that the ... tragedy, beyond the incident linked to personal mistakes, revealed organizational defaults, malfunctionings," Morin later told reporters at a news conference Tuesday. He added that the general had brought up the possibility of resigning on Sunday, only hours after the incident.
The military blamed the shooting at a parachute regiment's open day on "serious failings."
Montpellier Prosecutor Robin said the shooting appeared to be unintentional.
"According to (the soldier's) early statements, it appears that he made a mistake while loading his gun," Robin said. "This act was absolutely not premeditated; I want to be clear about this point."
The soldier said he "forgot" to hand in unused bullets, as rules stipulate, Robin said. He then "made a mistake" and loaded his weapon with those munitions, Robin said.
The soldier, a sergeant, was freed pending the investigation.
Under French law, preliminary charges mean investigating judges have strong reason to suspect involvement in a crime. Judges decide later if there is enough evidence for a trial.
Without waiting for the results of the judicial and military investigations, Morin ordered the army chief of staff to prepare punishments for those responsible, the ministry said in a statement. It did not elaborate on what the sanctions would be.
Sarkozy had promised there would be "consequences" after the shooting.