PARIS (Reuters) – Booksellers along the Seine say the Olympics are threatening to wipe out a symbol of Paris after local authorities told them they must remove their stands for the opening ceremony of the 2024 Summer Games over security concerns.
According to city officials, around 570 of the famous old stalls that line the river in the capital will have to be dismantled and relocated, or almost 60% of the riverside booksellers.
“People come to see us as they come to see the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, (but) they want to hide us during a ceremony meant to represent Paris,” said Jerome Callais, president of the Paris Booksellers Association.
Paris police told booksellers that their stands were within the restricted area of the opening ceremony and would have to be removed for “apparent security reasons,” a police statement said.
Paris 2024 organizers are expecting at least 600,000 people to attend the opening ceremony on the Seine, where athletes and delegations will be sailing on the river. It is the first time that the public has free access to the opening ceremony and not in a stadium.
The French government plans to ensure security at the event, which will see 35,000 security guards and the military deployed.
But Albert Abid feels he and his fellow booksellers will be left out of the celebrations, and he fears his 100-year-old wooden stand will be damaged in the process.
“(They) are very fragile. Our stalls will not be able to withstand this operation, nor will the booksellers’ morale,” said the 10-year-old seller in front of his riverside stall with around 100-150 books.
Paris authorities said in a statement they met with the booksellers earlier this month and offered to cover the cost of removing the stalls and paying for any repair work should damage occur, which they described as a “renovation”.
“This renovation is part of the legacy of the Games and will help support the application for recognition of the Seine Booksellers as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO,” the authorities said.
It was not clear if booksellers were told they would have to move for the duration of the games or just for the opening ceremony. But the city has invited them to move into a specially created “Bookseller’s Village” in a “literary district near the Seine” for the duration of the Games.
However, Callis, the President of the Booksellers Association, said that the proposed location of Bastille Square was not a viable solution and that no other compensation had been proposed.
“Nobody will go to this market,” he said.
(Reporting by Ardee Napolitano and Clotaire Achi; Text by Layli Foroudi; Editing by Hugh Lawson)