Paris warns tourists as Olympic plans backtrack

Tourists heading to Paris during the Olympics have been warned of major changes to the opening ceremony.

The French government announced on Tuesday that residents of Paris will not be able to watch the opening ceremony for free, as originally promised.

Organizers are planning a grand opening ceremony on July 26 that will draw as many as 600,000 spectators, most of whom will watch for free from the riverbank. But safety and logistical concerns, as well as protests from bookstores along the city's picturesque pier, led the government to gradually scale back the plan.

Last month, the overall number of spectators dropped to about 300,000. On Tuesday, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced that 104,000 of those people would pay to attend ticket holders at spots along the lower riverbank, and a further 222,000 would watch for free from the upper banks.

However, he said the free tickets will no longer be available to the public and will be by invitation only.

“To manage crowd movement, we can't tell everyone to come,” Darmanin said. “For security reasons that everyone understands, especially the threat of terrorism in recent weeks, we have an obligation to keep it free but also contain it.”

A visitor passes by the Bouquiniste bookstore in Paris, which sells old and second-hand books. (AP)

Two Interior Ministry officials said the decision meant tourists would no longer be able to register for free access as previously envisaged. Instead, access to the ceremony will be assigned and allocated to residents of the town hosting the Olympic event, local sports federations, and others selected by the organizers and their partners. In accordance with department policy, the names of the officials were not authorized to be published.

For example, Darmanin said local town councils could invite “staff, children from local soccer clubs, and their parents.” Those invited must undergo a security check and receive a QR code to pass through the security barrier.

Although France is on high alert, Darmanin said intelligence services have not identified any specific plot targeting the Olympics. But he said there are multiple potential threats, including threats from Islamic extremists, violent environmentalists and far-right groups, as well as cyberattacks from Russia and other adversaries.

France suffered a series of deadly attacks linked to the Islamic State group that hit the Bataclan concert hall and other public places in 2015 and 2016, and since then the country has occasionally been attacked by extremists. Violence is occurring.

Intelligence agencies are carrying out tests on around 1 million people planning to attend, work with or access the Paris 2024 Games. Of the 89,000 tests already conducted, 280 people have been turned away due to police records or other safety concerns, Darmanin said.

Security for the 2024 Paris Olympics (Copyright 2024 Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

It will be the first time that the Olympic opening ceremony will be held outside a stadium, in keeping with the motto of Paris organizers: “The Games are wide open.” Around 10,500 athletes will be paraded along a 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) route through the heart of the French capital on boats on the Seine.

About 160 heads of state are expected to attend, and the government will close all airports and airspace within a 150 km (90 mile) radius of central Paris before, during and after the 3.5-hour ceremony.

Darmanin said about 2,500 foreign police will be taking part, of the 45,000 security forces deployed around Paris for the event. Discussions are underway over whether foreign troops will be allowed on boats with their own athletes and what weapons they will be allowed to carry.

Hire and train enough security personnel for the Olympics, which will be held from July 26 to August. The 2011 Paralympics and subsequent Paralympics proved difficult. Officials say about 10% of the private security personnel requested by the government have not yet been hired.

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