PARIS: Authorities will deploy 110,000 police and security forces across France this weekend to secure the huge street parties if “Les Bleus” win the World Cup on Sunday, after years of attacks targeting crowds and other so-called “soft” targets.
The massive security effort has been complicated by France’s national day, Bastille Day, which falls on Saturday.
Few French can think of the traditional national holiday parties and firework displays without recalling the 86 people mown down two years ago by a van in the Mediterranean coastal resort of Nice.
The country has been repeatedly targeted by extremists over previous years in attacks that have claimed 246 lives since January 2015, according to an AFP toll.
“Everything is being done so the French can live these festive moments with peace of mind, despite the terrorist threat which remains at a high level,” Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said Friday.
In Paris and nearby suburbs alone a vast security effort involving 12,000 police is being prepared for the weekend, with an additional 3,000 emergency medical responders on hand.
“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 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”.
– ‘Widescale operation’ –
Unlike 20 years ago, however, France now lives with the acute risk of jihadist terror attacks which have struck steadily since the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in January 2015.
“This is an exceptionally widescale operation,” Collomb said. “We cannot mobilise any more officers than we do this weekend.”
The Bastille Day festivities kick off Friday night with firework shows and public street dances.
On Saturday, a military parade and air force flyovers attended by President Emmanuel Macron will be followed by a pyrotechnics display near 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 too when the World Cup final between France and Croatia will be shown on a giant screen nearby.
A secured fan zone for 90,000 people will be set up for the broadcast, one of about 230 such zones across the country.
“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 duty Sunday night in Paris, 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.” —AFP