French President Emmanuel Macron has intervened in a row over the removal of booksellers from the banks of the river Seine for the Paris Olympics, ruling that they should stay at their historic locations, his office said February 13.
The head of the Cultural Association of Booksellers of Paris had likened the removal efforts to a “tooth extraction” and the organisation announced last month that it would launch legal efforts to stop the process.
Macron “has asked the interior minister and the Paris prefect’s office that all of the booksellers are preserved and that none of them are forced to move,” a statement from the president’s office said.
The decision came after “no consensual and reassuring solution” could be found with the traders, who have been a feature of Parisian life for some 150 years.
Already struggling to bounce back from shutdowns during the Covid pandemic and a longer-run loss of interest from locals, the booksellers are desperate to profit from the arrival of an estimated 16 million tourists for the Games.
The Paris Olympics are set to begin with national teams sailing down a six-kilometre stretch of the Seine on more than 100 boats—the first time the traditional opening ceremony has been held outside of the main stadium.
The city’s police, overseen by the government-appointed prefect, had ordered the removal of some 600 of the 900 book kiosks over security concerns amid fears that they could be used to conceal explosive devices.
The format of the open-air ceremony has created a huge challenge for security forces who will need to protect athletes, VIPs and spectators in a vast area of the centre of Paris.
Moving the booksellers was also seen as a way of increasing the space for spectators on the banks of the river where around 300,000 ticketed fans are set to watch the show.
The intervention from Macron reflects concern about the impact on public opinion of removing a fixture of Parisian life, as well as growing criticism of the disruption to everyday life caused by the Games.
Advance warnings about security and transport restrictions have led many locals to plan holidays during the July 26-August 11 Olympics, sometimes in order to rent out their homes for high prices to foreign visitors.
Other complaints centre on the construction work that snares traffic daily around the capital, while resentment lingers over the handling of ticket sales last year that saw many Parisians priced out.
“Don’t leave this summer, don’t leave! That would be a mistake,” mayor Anne Hidalgo urged the city’s inhabitants on Sunday as she inaugurated the only new permanent Olympics sports arena to be built in inner Paris.
“It’s going to be incredible,” she said.
Surveys suggest a large majority of French people back the Olympics, with a poll in November indicating that 65 percent of respondents were in favour.
Most of the sporting and transport infrastructure existed before the Games, part of Paris’ pitch for a relatively low-budget event that organisers say will be 50 percent less polluting than previous editions measured by CO2 emissions.
The Olympics will be followed by the Paralympics from August 28-September 8.