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77 people including kids dead: Hollande

dpadpa 14/07/2016

French President Francois Hollande says 77 people have been killed, many of them children, in what is undeniably a terrorist attack.

The "terrorist characteristics" of the deadly truck attack on a French crowd "cannot be denied", President Francois Hollande says.

The state of emergency, imposed after the November shootings in Paris, was to be extended by three months beyond its current expiration date of July 26, Hollande told the nation in a televised address early on Friday.

Hollande also said 77 people had been killed, many of them children, and 20 were in critical condition. Local authorities have said more than 100 people had been injured all in.

The attacker, who has not been identified, drove a truck at high speed into a crowd watching Bastille Day fireworks in the southern French city of Nice.

Weapons and grenades were found inside the truck, authorities said, and counter-terrorist investigators are leading the probe.

Police shot and killed the driver, who drove the 25-tonne, unmarked truck for well over 100 metres along the famed Promenade des Anglais seafront, slamming into a mass of spectators late on Thursday evening, regional government official Sebastien Humbert told France Info radio.

The man had opened fire on the crowd, local government chief Christian Estrosi told local media, also citing the discovery of weapons and grenades after the driver was killed.

"It's a scene of horror," a local member of parliament, Eric Ciotti, told France Info.

The truck sped along the pavement fronting the Mediterranean, before being stopped by police after "mowing down several hundred people."

"People went down like ninepins," Jacques, a restaurant owner on the seafront Promenade des Anglais, told France Info.

Local newspaper Nice-Matin posted photographs of the truck, its windshield starred by bullets and its radiator grille destroyed.

Since Islamic State attacks last year, major public events in France have been guarded by troops and armed police, but it appeared to have taken some minutes to halt the progress of the deadly truck in Nice.

Residents of the city, located 30km from the Italian border, were advised to stay indoors. There was no sign of any other attacker.

Police denied rumours on social media of a subsequent hostage-taking.

Almost exactly eight months ago Islamic State militants killed 130 people in Paris on November 13, the bloodiest in a number of attacks in France and Belgium in the past two years.

On Sunday, France had breathed a sigh of relief as the month-long Euro 2016 soccer tournament ended without a feared attack.

US President Barack Obama said in a statement: "On behalf of the American people, I condemn in the strongest terms what appears to be a horrific terrorist attack in Nice, France, which killed and wounded dozens of innocent civilians."

One woman told France Info that she and others had fled in terror: "The lorry came zig-zagging along the street. We ran into a hotel and hid in the toilets with lots of people."

Nice, with a population of some 350,000 and a history as a flamboyant resort but also a gritty metropolis, has seen some of its Muslim residents travel to Syria to fight, a path taken by previous Islamic State attackers in Europe.

"Neither the place nor the date are coincidental," former French intelligence agent and security consultant Claude Moniquet told France-Info, noting the jihadist presence in Nice and the fact that July 14 marks France's 1789 revolution.

"Tragic paradox that the subject of Nice attack was the people celebrating liberty, equality and fraternity," European Council President Donald Tusk said on Twitter on Friday.

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