PARIS (Reuters) – Booksellers along the river Seine say the Olympics threaten to erase a symbol of Paris, after they were told by local authorities that they will have to remove their stalls for the Summer Games opening ceremony in 2024 for security reasons.
Around 570 of the famous old stalls that line the river in the capital need to be dismantled and moved, or almost 60% of the riverside booksellers, according to the city authorities.
“People come to see us like they come to see the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, (but) they want to hide us during a ceremony that is supposed to represent Paris,” said Jerome Callais, the president of the Paris booksellers association.
Paris police have told the booksellers their stalls are within the perimeter of protection for the opening ceremony and need to be removed for “obvious security reasons,” the police said in a statement.
Paris 2024 organisers expect at least 600,000 people to attend the opening ceremony on the Seine, during which athletes and delegations will sail along the river. It will be the first time the public have free access to the opening ceremony, and not in a stadium.
The French government is making plans to ensure the security of the event, for which 35,000 security agents and the military will be deployed.
But Albert Abid feels that he and his fellow booksellers are being excluded from the celebrations, and says he is worried that his 100-year old wooden stall will be damaged in the process.
″(They) are very fragile.. our stalls will not be able to withstand this operation, nor will the morale of the booksellers,” said the seller of 10 years in front of his riverside stall holding around 100-150 books.
The Paris authorities said in a statement that they met with the booksellers earlier this month and offered to pay for the costs of removing the stalls and to pay for any repair work in the event of damage, in what they called a “renovation”.
“This renovation is part of the Games’ heritage and will help support the application to have the Seine booksellers recognised as intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO,” the authorities said.
It was not clear whether the booksellers had been told they must move for the duration of the Games or only for the opening ceremony. But the city has invited them to move to a specially created “bookseller village” in a “literary neighbourhood near to the Seine” for the duration of the Games.
However, Callais, the bookseller association president, said the proposed location of Bastille square was not a viable solution and that no other compensation had been proposed.
“No-one is going to go to that market,” he said.
(Reporting by Ardee Napolitano and Clotaire Achi; Writing by Layli Foroudi; Editing by Hugh Lawson)