French Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy on Sunday announ-ced stepped-up security procedures in hospitals, as police continued to hunt for the killer of two nurses who were murdered in a horrific fashion two nights earlier.
Chantal Klimaszewski, 48, and Lucette Gariod, 40, were discovered in a blood-spattered room on Saturday morning at a psychiatric hospital in Pau, southwest France. The head of one had been cut off and placed on a television set and the other's throat had been slit.
After an emergency meeting attended by some 30 officials, doctors and union-leaders, Douste-Blazy said that psychiatric units and emergency departments of hospitals would be authorized to set up telephone hot-lines to police stations.
Amid concern raised by some staff members that the Pau murderer may have been a discharged former inmate, the minister announced a moratorium on bed-closures in psychiatric units and promised to bring forward a health service reform plan due in February.
Speaking on national television, Douste-Blazy said that an extra 200 million euros (US$265 million) would be allocated for a mental healthcare reform plan early next year.
Late on Sunday Pau prosecutor Eric Maurel said an autopsy of the two bodies had proved "very positive" and enabled the investigation to "make some headway."
"The autopsies make it possible to have a clearer picture of what happened and they proved very positive," he said.
He said that based on an ana-lysis of bloodstains found on the window of the pavilion where the tragedy occurred, it was determined with certainty that the perpetrator or perpetrators left through this window.
The weapon used has yet to be found.
Douste-Blazy also said he would write to President Jacques Chirac asking for the two women to be awarded a posthumous Legion d'Honneur medal.
Five men who were held for questioning by police in Pau were released on Sunday without charge. Four had been described as vagrants aged between 30 and 40 who were detained on Saturday after a telephone tip-off. The fifth was a former patient of the hospital, who was discharged a week ago.
Staff at the Pau hospital, which employs around 1,100 people, were in deep shock on Sunday.
"They were full of life. They were great colleagues -- and mothers. You don't come to work in order to die! It could have happened to any one of us," said health-worker and union activist Concepcion Gomez.
Growing fears have been expressed recently over the level of violence in French hospitals.
In the last weeks there has been a series of strikes at Pau hos-pital over plans to cut 50 staff, and Douste-Blazy said there would be an investigation to see if manning levels had any bearing on the tragedy.
"Violence -- be it physical, verbal or deadly, as we have just witnessed -- is increasingly common in all our medical institutions. Practically every day carers are attacked and insulted by patients, in emergency areas and in psychiatric hospitals," said Paul Bonnan, a psychiatrist at Cadillac, southwest France.