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Paris quietly scales back Olympic opening ceremony after failed police recruitment drive

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Published Time: 10.02.2024 - 18:40:23 Modified Time: 10.02.2024 - 18:40:23

Only 300,000 now expected to attend traditional jamboree amid security fears LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP Paris has drastically cut back the size of the crowd for its Olympic opening ceremony after a failed recruitment drive left it with a municipal police force half the required size

Only 300,000 now expected to attend traditional jamboree amid security fears

: LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP

Paris has drastically cut back the size of the crowd for its Olympic opening ceremony after a failed recruitment drive left it with a municipal police force half the required size.

Six months before the Games begin, Paris City Hall is now counting on a municipal police force of 2,000 officers instead of the 5,000 officers promised in 2020 by Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist Party mayor.

The revelation came a week after the French government quietly announced that it had slashed the crowd size for the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympics this July amid security and other organisational concerns.

Two and a half years after the introduction of a municipal police force in the capital, in June 2021, “we currently have 1,300 municipal police officers”, said Nicolas Nordman, the deputy mayor for security.

And with “another two large groups” undergoing training between now and the summer, the municipality will have “2,000 officers, the vast majority of them municipal police, mobilised for the Games”, he added.

During her re-election campaign in 2020, Ms Hidalgo pledged to create a municipal police force that would “have 5,000 officers by 2024”.

But “we won’t be there because it’s complicated to recruit, as it is everywhere else in France,” said Mr Nordman. “We’ll probably be at around 3,500” (by 2026), admitted Anne Hidalgo in an interview with Ouest-France published on Monday.

Although the city council is “doing everything” to meet its initial targets, “we are currently unable to recruit municipal police officers”, admitted Mr Nordman, citing the “problem of the attractiveness of these jobs” and the “lack of applicants”.

The confession came as hundreds of municipal police officers demonstrated across France last Saturday, demanding better recognition and no longer being regarded as “a sub-police” force.

Last month, France’s interior ministry announced that its national police, as opposed to those employed by Paris town hall, would receive a one-off bonus of up to €1,900 (£1,620) under a major public pay deal intended to placate trade unions.

Officers had baulked at being forced not to take summer holidays, like other public-sector workers such as nurses and train drivers, and had asked for a raise, going on strike over two days.

Public-sector workers from the security forces to nurses to train drivers are pushing for extra pay for forgoing their holidays in July and August during the Games when millions of visitors are expected around the country.

The hard-Left CGT trade union representing Paris metro staff also announced last month that it had given notice of possible strikes, including over the summer, as part of its efforts to secure pay hikes and bonuses.

In all, around 35,000 security forces are expected to be on duty each day for the Olympics from July 26-August 11.

Millions are due to descend on the City of Lights for the Games. The Paralympics are set to take place from August 28-September 8.

After months of speculation about the number of people permitted to watch the opening ceremony, the interior minister Gerald Darmanin last week announced that “around 300,000” ticketed fans would attend.

That is half the 600,000 that he had suggested in 2022 and is even smaller than the most recent estimates of 400-500,000, underlining the complexity of securing an event over four miles of river.

“I know that we have the best security forces in the world and that we will succeed in showing not only that we can win medals (at the Olympics) but that we can play host to the world without any problems,” Mr Darmanin told the France 2 channel.

The figure of 300,000 people did not include others “who live and who will be able to rent to have parties along the Seine”, Mr Darmanin added, referring to the hundreds of buildings that overlook the famed waterway.

The idea of a spectacular open-air parade with hundreds of boats gave cold sweats to many in the French security establishment because of the difficulty of controlling the crowds and the risk of terror attacks.

Terror alert

Organisers and the Paris mayor’s office had initially imagined up to two million people in attendance. But one senior French security figure told AFP recently that organisers had had “eyes bigger than their stomachs” when planning the opening and that their initial crowd estimates were “too high”.

France was placed on its highest alert for terror attacks in October after a suspected Islamist burst into a school in northern France and stabbed a teacher to death.

In another setback for Parisians, they have just been told to avoid ordering parcel deliveries this summer.

Parisien residents were this week told “as far as possible” to “do parcel orders in advance so that they are delivered before July 24, after September 8 or between the two Olympics, so between August 12 and 27,” said the transport ministry.

If deliveries should still take place during this period, the government is asking people to “favour deliveries at times and days with less traffic” and “by bike or on foot” or at pick-up points outside the security perimeters.

Turbulent week

It has been a turbulent week for the Games after the Paris Olympics chief organiser, Tony Estanguet, on Tuesday confirmed that French investigators had opened a legal probe into his pay.

The investigation is expected to look into the way Mr Estanguet is paid as head of the organising committee following a report he uses his own company to bill the organising committee monthly, instead of drawing a salary.

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