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Toxicology tests needed in French scholar's death

NEW YORK — An initial investigation into the death of a prominent French scholar whose body was found in bed inside a midtown Manhattan hotel room has turned up no obvious signs of foul play, police said Wednesday.

Detectives found no evidence that anyone had broken into the seventh-floor room of Richard Descoings, the head of one of France's top colleges, or any clear signs of trauma to his body, said New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne.

Police said a laptop computer and a cellphone believed to belong to Descoings were found on a third-floor ledge below his room at the Michelangelo Hotel, but it was unclear how they got there. Empty alcohol bottles and prescription medication also were discovered in his room.

An initial autopsy performed Wednesday required further study. The medical examiner's office said it would perform toxicology and other tests.

The 53-year-old Descoings, who pioneered in opening elitist schools to the underprivileged, had been scheduled to appear Tuesday at a conference at Columbia University.

When Descoings didn't show up and failed to answer repeated phone calls, organizers contacted hotel security, police said. The hotel called 911 after his body was found Tuesday afternoon.

In France, news of the death prompted praise for Descoings from President Nicolas Sarkozy and other high-profile figures.

Descoings' tenure as director of the Paris Institute of Political Studies, or Sciences Po, marked "a historic turning point in awareness of scandalous social elitism in France," Sarkozy said.

France is well-known for its elitist educational system, where only a handful of schools, including Sciences Po, produce a majority of the country's top leaders. One in four students now benefit from scholarships, aimed at helping talented students with modest financial means.

Descoings also made the school "world renowned" after it opened it to foreign students, Sarkozy said.

Sarkozy's rival in presidential elections and Sciences Po alumnus, Francois Hollande, spoke of his emotion at the loss of a man much admired for his friendliness, attentiveness and human touch. And Charles Rivkin, the U.S. ambassador to France, praised the scholar's international approach.

"His devotion to opening Sciences Po to international students, including many Americans, was admirable," Rivkin said in a statement.

Hundreds of students held an emotional memorial service Wednesday on the university grounds.

"Classes finished early this morning for the service," said international student Darko Manakovski, 27, "but the courtyard where it was taking place was so packed we had to watch from inside the building." He estimated that 1,000 people attended. "Everyone was shocked, really upset."

According to witnesses, hordes of teachers and students, many visibly shaken, packed the tree-filled courtyard in the heart of Paris' Left Bank during the hour-long service, closed to the media.

Hundreds of others visited the Sciences Po Facebook page to pay their respects with messages and photos.

Associated Press writer Thomas Adamson in Paris contributed to this report.