France loses Euro 2016, but can claim security victory

AP News
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Posted: Jul 11, 2016 4:43 PM
France loses Euro 2016, but can claim security victory

PARIS (AP) — France has lost the European Championship but can claim victory on another front — making it safely through the monthlong tournament that drew fans from all over Europe while in a state of emergency and on high alert for Islamic extremist attacks.

Stretched security forces, already deployed at sensitive sites around France, were called into action to help ensure a safe tournament that authorities decided to go ahead with despite two waves of attacks in 2015, including November shootings and bombings of multiple sites in Paris that killed 130.

Critical voices tried to nix fan zones in each of the 10 French cities where 51 matches were held, considering them a security nightmare. Authorities refused, and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Monday that "we were right."

Keeping France safe during Euro 2016 took a 90,000-strong security force, including 30,000 from the private sector. Meticulous advance and day-to-day organization with intelligence, police services in France and Europe, and with soccer authorities, was necessary.

"Despite the context of a very high threat, Euro 2016, thanks to the organization of everyone, was a success," Cazeneuve said.

There were incidents at the start of the events, when hooligans threatened to unravel planning, and a hiccup at the end with clashes between police and small groups of troublemakers under the Eiffel Tower near the Paris fan zone.

Police moved into action at the start of Sunday night's final, using tear gas and water cannons in confrontations with people upset that the fan zone not far from the Eiffel Tower was full and closed. Trash cans and scooters were set alight, with firefighters extinguishing the blazes. About 40 arrests were made in the area and around the Stade de France, police said Monday.

The Eiffel Tower was closed for much of Monday following the confrontations that damaged the ground below the mammoth structure, including steel barriers, benches and some shops, according to the company that runs the monument. It reopened around 8 p.m. (1800 GMT).

The scuffles didn't detract from officials' security success story, nor did last month's clashes with hooligans in Marseille surrounding the England-Russia match.

Cazeneuve called the hooligan violence "the only major incident" during Euro 2016, but said the firm hand of security forces, including expulsions of troublemakers from France, ensured that such melees were snuffed out. Dozens of fans and police were injured in the Old Port section of Marseille.

Still, the relief will only be complete when the Tour de France ends on July 24.

France's sporting venues have been targeted in recent attacks.

The Stade de France was hit by suicide bombings in November as attackers also raided a concert hall, bars and restaurants. An earlier wave of attacks in Paris in January 2015 killed 17.

Security was especially tight in the capital. For Euro 2016 final, when France lost 1-0 to Portugal, there were 1,900 police in the Paris fan zone. Thousands more were deployed on the famed Champs-Elysees, used for victory parades.

A system was set up to keep watch on the competition with a crisis center inside the Interior Ministry working around the clock throughout the competition, European experts of countries playing brought in and a French risk analysis unit of intelligence services inside and outside France, Cazeneuve said.

"The eyes of the world were trained on France," Cazeneuve said, providing a summing up of the security aspect of the competition. He praised cooperation between multiple services, with UEFA and the vigilance of security forces.

Cazeneuve said the work of intelligence services led to the arrests of 150 people for terrorism-linked activities since the start of the year, with a total of 1,555 people being detained during the tournament overall. Of them 59 received firm or suspended prison sentences, the minister said, adding that 64 people were expelled and 32 banned from entering France.

But "the terrorist threat remains," the minister warned.

The Tour de France is providing another security challenge, along with the start this week of summer vacations in France. The Tour de France alone is being protected by 23,000 police and gendarmes.

Cazeneuve took a stab at critics who "raised doubts about the capacity of our country to organize such an event in a particularly high terrorist-threat risk context."

"We were right to maintain fan zones," he said.