Web site's cash handout stunt horrifies French minister

PARIS (Reuters) - French Budget Minister Eric Woerth said on Sunday he was horrified by a publicity stunt that attracted huge crowds hoping for a cash handout and led to serious violence when it was canceled for safety reasons.

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Marketing Web site was forced to call off its plan to throw envelopes of cash to passers-by from the top of a bus on Saturday after thousands of people turned up and began spilling over security barriers.

The decision to call off the stunt, which had been heavily promoted beforehand, sparked violent scenes in which shop windows were smashed, at least one car was overturned by hooded youths and photographers and cameramen were attacked.

Police in riot gear were called in to break up the disturbances and about 10 people were arrested.

“This kind of behavior by companies horrifies me,” Woerth told Radio J. “They’ve done this in the United States but that’s no reason to do it in France.”

Rentabiliweb, the company behind issued a statement on Saturday saying it had official permission, otherwise it would not have gone ahead with what it called a “friendly, enjoyable and good natured cash-back initiative.”

“Rentaliweb deplores the excesses which occurred,” it said.

It said it would donate the 100,000 euros ($148,800) which it had intended to distribute to a charity for the poor.

Woerth denied the violence had any wider significance for French society in view of the economic crisis.

“If you tell people, ‘turn up at such-and-such a time and we’ll hand out money’, they’ll come, whether they’re German, Belgian or Costa Rican,” he said, brushing aside a suggestion it could be a sign France was “on the brink of a social explosion.”

“Not at all. That is on the brink of idiocy,” he said.

Writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Andrew Dobbie