French police have heard no sign of life from al Qaeda-inspired gunman Mohamed Merah, suspected of killing seven people, since late Wednesday evening, and it is unclear whether he is still alive, Interior Minister Claude Gueant said on Thursday.

There was no movement during the night. We hope he is still alive, Gueant told RTL radio, as a police siege of Merah's apartment in the southern French city of Toulouse ran into its second day.

Gueant said two shots had been heard during the night, as police blasted the building with explosives at regular intervals to try to exhaust Merah, hoping to capture him alive and unharmed.

Despite renewed efforts all through the night to re-establish contact by voice and radio, there has been no contact, no showing from him, Gueant said.

(Reporting By Catherine Bremer; editing by Elizabeth Piper)