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Macron: Restoring Notre Dame is France's 'profound destiny'

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French President vows to use 'best talent' to rebuild beloved French cathedral devastated in blaze

PARIS The mediaeval cathedral of Notre Dame, which was devastated in a major fire on Monday evening, will be rebuilt, French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed.

"We will rebuild Notre Dame because it is what the French expect," said the visibly shaken President when he visited the famous Paris cathedral close to midnight.

With tears in his eyes, Mr Macron said "the worst has been avoided" thanks to the work of firefighters who battled for hours to save the Gothic cathedral's two towers and facade.

Mr Macron vowed to draw on "the best talent" to rebuild what had been destroyed.

Calling the disaster a "terrible tragedy", he said he would launch an international appeal for the restoration of the beloved church, AFP reported.

Flanked by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit, Mr Macron added: "We will rebuild this cathedral all together. Because that is what our history deserves. Because that is our profound destiny."

The response to his appeal for reconstruction funds was immediate and overwhelming.

Mr Francois-Henri Pinault, the billionaire owner of French luxury group Kering - its brands include Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci - kicked off the campaign by pledging €100 million (S$153 million).

Mr Bernard Arnault, the founder of LVMH, which owns Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, yesterday pledged €200 million, followed by French cosmetics giant L'Oreal, also with €200 million and French oil giant Total with €100 million.

The fire was probably caused by accident, French prosecutors said yesterday after about 400 firefighters took around 15 hours to tame the inferno that consumed the roof and collapsed the spire of the 850-year-old cathedral, Reuters reported.

Paris public prosecutor Remy Heitz said there was no obvious indication of arson.

Fifty people are working on what is expected to be a long and complex investigation.

Investigators will not be able to enter the cathedral's blackened nave until experts are satisfied that its stone walls withstood the heat and the building is structurally sound.

One firefighter was injured. No one else was hurt in the blaze that began after the church was closed to the public on Monday evening.

The fire swiftly ripped through the cathedral's timbered roof supports, where workmen had been carrying out extensive renovations to the spire's wooden frame.

Police yesterday began questioning the workers involved in the restoration, the prosecutor's office said.

Hundreds of stunned spectators lined the banks of the Seine river late into the night as the fire raged, reciting prayers and singing liturgical music in harmony as they stood in vigil.

Sister Marie Aimee, a nun who came from a nearby church to pray as the fire spread, said: "Yesterday we thought the whole cathedral would collapse. Yet this morning she is still standing, valiant, despite everything. It is a sign of hope."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong joined other world leaders to express their sadness over the disaster.

"It is particularly poignant that this happened during Holy Week," Mr Lee wrote on Facebook.

"I share the sense of loss of the French people over the damage to their national monument and the treasures it contained."

He added: "The Notre Dame has stood witness to events in Paris and Europe for more than 850 years... I hope, in time, a rebuilt Notre Dame will grace the Paris skyline."