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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    Macron says the Olympic opening ceremony on the Seine could be moved to stadium for security reasons

    The Seine river is seen Thursday, March 28, 2024 in Paris. The river will host the Paris 2024 Olympic Games opening ceremony with boats for each national delegation. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

    French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday said the opening ceremony for the Paris Olympics planned on the River Seine could be shifted instead to the Stade de France if the security threat is deemed too high.

    France is on high security alert ahead of the Paris Olympics and Paralympics, which are expected to draw millions of visitors to the country.

    Security concerns are notably high for the the exceptional opening ceremony, which involves boats carrying athletes along the Seine on a 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) parade and huge crowds watching from the embankments.

    Speaking to French media BFM-TV and RMC, Macron said France’s law enforcement forces will be mobilized at an exceptional level for the security of the open-air event.

    “But if we think there are risks, depending on our analysis of the context, we have fallback scenarios," Macron said. “There are plan Bs and plan Cs.”

    The July 26 event is set to be the first Olympic opening ceremony held outside a stadium setting. About 10,500 athletes will parade through the heart of the French capital on boats on the Seine along the route ending in front of the Trocadéro.

    To limit security risks, Macron said organizers could decide to shorten the itinerary of the parade on the Seine, and even to “repatriate the ceremony to the Stade de France” for a more conventional opening event.

    Organizers had originally planned a grandiose opening ceremony for as many as 600,000 people, most watching free of charge from riverbanks. But security and logistical concerns have led the government to progressively scale back its ambitions. Earlier this year, the overall number of spectators was reduced to around 300,000.

    The French government also decided that tourists won’t be given free access to watch the opening ceremony because of security concerns. Free access will be invitation-only instead.

    Macron insisted that, for now, plans for the opening ceremony remain the same.

    “It’s a world first. We can do it and we will do it,” the French President said.

    France has repeatedly been hit by deadly Islamic State attacks, including the Bataclan theater massacre in 2015 in which extremists opened fire on concert-goers and held hostages for hours. French troops have also fought against Islamic extremists in the Middle East and Africa.

    Last month, the French government increased its security alert posture to the highest level after the deadly attack at a Russian concert hall and the Islamic State’s claim of responsibility.

    Macron said that security perimeters will be installed “days, even weeks” before the opening ceremony. He added that road traffic in the high-security zone will be brought to a standstill, and that French authorities will use "drone systems, coding, cyber protection,” in their safeguarding efforts.

    Answering to a viewer who expressed concerns about her son attending the opening ceremony, Macron said “If there’s one place where your son will be safe, it’s here."

    “There are always risks in life,” he said. "And we see it every day, unfortunately. But we’ve given ourselves the means to do it.”

    During the hour-long interview, Macron also said he wants "to do everything possible to have an Olympic truce” for the Paris Games, amid a risk of an escalating conflict in the Middle East, Russia’s war in Ukraine, now in its third year, and Sudan, hurtling towards a large-scale calamity of starvation and mass death after a year-long war.

    The Olympic Truce is a modern revival of the ancient Greek tradition to ensure warring city states allowed safe passage for athletes to the games. Every two years, the host country of the upcoming Olympics introduces a U.N. resolution that other member states can co-sponsor.

    “We want to work towards an Olympic truce and I think it is an occasion for me to engage with a lot of our partners,” Macron said, adding that he would ask Chinese leader Xi Jinping to weigh in and use his influence.

    “The Chinese president is coming to Paris in a few weeks, and I’m going to ask him to help me,” Macron said. “This is a diplomatic moment of peace.”

    Macron also backed the decision to allow Russian athletes to compete in the Olympics despite the Ukraine invasion, but under a neutral flag. Additionally, he defended the participation of Israeli athletes under their country’s flag despite its offensive in Gaza in which 33,000 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been displaced.

    “We cannot say that Israel is attacking,” Macron said. “Israel was a victim of a terrorist attack to which it is now responding to in Gaza.”

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    More AP coverage of the Paris Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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    Barbara Surk in Nice contributed to this report.

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