PARIS: Paris is preparing to deploy thousands of police to secure the massive street parties if France wins Sunday’s World Cup after years of attacks targeting crowds and other so-called “soft” targets.
The weekend is likely to be further complicated by Saturday’s Bastille Day festivities which have been known to get rowdy, at times leading to skirmishes with the police.
Few French can think of the traditional national holiday parties and firework displays without recalling the 86 people mown down by a van in the Mediterranean coastal resort of Nice on July 14, 2016.
More recently, one person was killed and four others wounded when a man went on a stabbing spree in a lively Paris neighbourhood last May.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for both attacks.
“The goal is to guarantee that these events go off smoothly… that the party not be spoiled by such tragedies,” Paris police chief Michel Delpuech said on Thursday.
He said police forces had not faced such a confluence of “exceptional events” in the capital since July 12, 1998, when up to 1.5 million euphoric fans converged on the Champs Elysees after France won its first World Cup title.
The following day saw an ecstatic parade for the victorious French team, fuelling a burst of national pride that carried over into the traditional July 14 military parade along “the most beautiful avenue in the world”.
A total of 12,000 law enforcement officers will be deployed in Paris and the nearby suburbs over the weekend.
An additional 3,000 emergency medical responders are also being mobilised.
On Saturday, the military parade and air force flyovers attended by President Emmanuel Macron will be followed by a pyrotechnics display on the vast Champ de Mars underneath the Eiffel Tower which is expected to draw tens of thousands of people.
Both events will be secured by a police perimeter allowing just a few access points where visitors will be subject to pat-downs and searches under new emergency powers given to police in a tough new anti-terrorism law passed last year.
The Eiffel Tower will be closed to visitors for the occasion, and police requested this week that it be shut on Sunday as well when the World Cup final between France and Croatia will be shown on a giant screen on the Champ de Mars.
A secured fan zone for 90,000 people will be set up for the broadcast.
“We will stop letting people in when this limit is reached,” Delpuech said, urging fans “to arrive as early as possible, starting at 1:00 pm (1100 GMT).”
In case of a French victory, some 4,000 police officers will be on hand on Sunday night, having already had a taste of what’s in store after France secured its place in the finals on Tuesday night.
Hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets, snarling traffic for hours, with some clashes between youths and police erupting on the Champs Elysees later in the evening, leading officers to fire tear gas before evacuating the avenue.
“If our team wins the World Cup, we’ll block off vehicle access over a vast perimeter” around the Champs Elysees, Delpuech said, adding that it would be an unprecedented measure
“The goal is to avoid what we saw in 1998 when thousands of people attempted to reach the city centre by car, leading to three crashes and one person’s death.
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