France gears up for huge security operation at Euro 2016

AP News
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Posted: Jul 09, 2016 2:17 PM
France gears up for huge security operation at Euro 2016

PARIS (AP) — French law enforcement authorities on Saturday pledged "extremely high" security in Paris for Sunday's European Championship final, with thousands of police patrolling as hundreds of thousands of fans mass in the French capital for the match.

Security forces have three key venues to protect when France plays Portugal: The Stade de France stadium hosting the final — outside of which three suicide bombers blew themselves up last year, the 92,000-capacity fan zone in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, and the Champs-Elysees boulevard, which will likely be swamped with fans after the match.

Mathias Vicherat, the Paris Mayor's chief of staff, said some 1,900 police and other security officers would patrol the fan zone, while the city's police chief, Michel Cadot, said 3,400 officers would patrol the Champs-Elysees, some of them redeployed from the stadium and fan zone after the final kicks off.

"We have the extremely favorable ratio of one officer for fewer than 50 spectators" in the fenced-off fan area where supporters can watch the match on a giant screen, Vicherat said. "So it is an extremely high standard."

Security forces have already successfully protected a total of 11 matches at the Stade de France and Paris stadium the Parc des Princes, including the tournament's opening match, but the final is expected to draw the biggest crowds as France aims to win its third European title by beating Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal.

Troops have been patrolling the streets of Paris for months in the aftermath of two deadly attacks by Islamic extremists last year. As Portugal and France fans wandered along the Champs-Elysees on Saturday they passed army trucks and submachine gun-toting troops.

Cadot said that the extreme security levels are in place because Paris is still under "a general terrorist threat."

He also ruled out using the Champs-Elysees as a venue for honoring the French team on Monday if it wins the tournament, saying that the wide, tree-lined street has to be prepared for an annual military parade to mark the French national holiday of Bastille Day on July 14.

Meticulous security preparations began long before the tournament and included an exercise in March in which officials simulated an attack involving a chemical bomb at an open-air screening of a match, with thousands of spectators.

France has mobilized some 90,000 security agents around stadiums, fan zones and streets to keep fans safe. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has also kept his ministry's crisis room open throughout the tournament to help monitor events and coordinate responses should action be necessary.

The work has paid off so far.

On the eve of the final, tournament organizer UEFA paid tribute to the work of the French security forces in the 50 matches played in 10 host cities leading up to the final.

"We owe a great debt of thanks to the French people, to the French president, François Hollande, to the French government, the host cities, and the French police and armed forces, who have done such a marvelous job of ensuring the safety of the millions of fans who have come from all over Europe to attend this tournament," UEFA senior vice president Angel Maria Villar said Saturday.

Matches early in the June 10-July 10 tournament, most notably the 1-1 draw between England and Russia in Marseille, were marred by hooligan violence, but there have been no other major security problems at the a tournament.

"France has achieved something quite remarkable, delivering one of the world's biggest sporting events in very challenging circumstances," Villar said. "France has shown that adversity can be overcome. It has shown the world how to stand tall."