Paris steps up security for United Nations climate change conference
The popular gathering places – a concert hall, a sports stadium, busy bars and cafes – hit last week by shooting and bomb attacks presented extremists with ideal opportunities to inflict major casualties.
Now consider this as a potential target: a mass assembly of tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people on the streets. The presence, in one place, of the world’s most powerful leaders and heads of state, including President Obama.
All that will be happening in Paris, a city still reeling from Friday’s bloodbath, in less than two weeks at a United Nations climate change conference viewed by many as the most important global environmental summit in years. The conference will run for nearly two weeks, starting Nov. 30, on the northern edge of Paris at Le Bourget, close to the historic airfield where Charles Lindbergh landed after his transatlantic crossing in 1927.
But after the attacks, which killed at least 129 people and wounded hundreds more, concern has been heightened about France’s ability to ensure anyone’s safety.
Officials announced Tuesday that 115,000 police officers, gendarmes and soldiers would be deployed across the country. Thousands of troops have descended on the capital; men in combat fatigues, toting automatic weapons, are a common sight at train stations, bustling squares and landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower.
The climate conference looks set to take place under an official state of emergency declared by French President Francois Hollande and extended by lawmakers. The designation grants police expanded authority to search buildings and detain people, among other powers, in the name of public security.
More than 100 heads of state and government, including Obama, have accepted invitations to attend the opening days of the conference. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that no world leader had requested postponement of the summit, an event he called “crucial to the planet’s future.”
Canceling or even delaying the conference would present organizers with a logistical nightmare. It could also send the wrong political message and hand Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for the Paris assault, an enormous propaganda victory.
“Let me appeal to all world leaders that we meet in Paris,” Donald Tusk, president of the European Union, said Sunday at the Group of 20 summit in Antalya, Turkey. “We must demonstrate that the world is united in our fight against climate change, but also show solidarity against terrorism. Our presence in Paris should be a sign that the world is not intimidated.”
Thousands of activists are expected to converge on Paris for protests, sideshows, satellite meetings and other activities through the duration of the conference, starting with a huge showcase march to kick off their campaign Nov. 29, the day before the summit formally opens.
Securing such an event, one that by nature encourages as many people to attend as possible and that someone bent on wreaking havoc or violence could easily slip into, is a massive challenge.
By uneasy coincidence, the government-approved route of the march, from the Place de la Republique to the Place de la Nation, will take marchers past some of the sites attacked Friday, including the historic Bataclan concert hall, where at least 89 people were killed by militants who burst in and sprayed the crowd with bullets.
Juliette Rousseau, a spokeswoman for the Climat 21 coalition of environmental and social-justice groups, said her organization had been working with the government for more than a year on security arrangements. She and other activists were blindsided by Valls’ statement this week that some events surrounding the climate summit, including the Nov. 29 march, might have to be canceled.
Sylvain Perriot stops to take a picture of the flag at half mast above the Presidential Palace in Paris. France’s Sate of Emergency will continue, with flags at half mast.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Looking inside the courtyard of the Presidential Palace, guards stand at attention for the departure of Secretary of State John Kerry after his meeting with French President Francois Hollande.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
On the third day of national mourning, the Eiffel Tower was illuminated in the colors of the French flag after going dark.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
On the third day of national mourning, people continue to gather in public places like the Place de la Republique, including Tao Cisse, age 5, and Maya Sutej.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
People observe a minute of silence in front of the Le Carillon cafe in Paris on Nov. 16, paying tribute to victims of the terror attacks.(Lionel Bonaventure / AFP/Getty Images)
Paris residents take part in a Nov. 16 moment of silence under the Eiffel Tower in observance of those who died during the terrorist attacks three days earlier.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
French President Francois Hollande, center, stands with government officials to observe a minute of silence Nov. 16 at the Sorbonne University in Paris.(Stephane De Sakutin / AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the French Foreign Legion stand guard near the Eiffel Tower on Nov. 16.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A Paris shopkeeper stays inside Sunday as soldiers guard the street where she works.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A sign that reads ‘Not even afraid’ is draped on the statue on Republique plaza in Paris.(Ian Langsdon / European Pressphoto Agency)
Women run past French soldiers as panic spread through the streets of Paris when rumors spread of another possible terrorist attack, which turned out to be a car left running in the street.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
French police have released a photo of Abdeslam Salah, a 26-year-old sought in connection with the Paris attacks.(National Police)
Prelates arrive to celebrate a Mass in memory of the attack victims at the Notre Dame cathedral.(LIONEL BONAVENTURE / AFP/Getty Images)
An emotional crowd gathers in front of Le Carillon restaurant.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
The glasses and silverware remain on the table where bullets were fired at Cafe Bonne Biere.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Armed police stand guard Nov. 14 near the Eiffel Tower, which was kept dark in honor of those who died in the terrorist attacks.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Mourners place flowers and candles outside the Bataclan theater in Paris.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A woman is evacuated from the Bataclan theater after the shootings in Paris.(Thibault Camus / Associated Press)
People lie on the pavement near the Cafe Bonne Biere in Paris following a series of attacks.(ANTHONY DORFMANN / AFP/Getty Images)
Rescuers evacuate people following an attack in Paris, where there were also reports of an ongoing hostage crisis at a concert venue.(Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP/Getty Images)
A victim lays dead under a blanket outside the Bataclan theater in Paris.(Jerome Delay / AP)
Hundreds of people spilled onto the field of the Stade de France stadium after explosions were heard nearby during a match between the French and German national soccer teams.(Christophe Ena / Associated Press)
Though public protests are technically forbidden under the state of emergency, trying to shut down the march and other activities would be unacceptable, Rousseau said. She acknowledged that the attacks have complicated the picture, but even before Friday the government was developing a security plan that took the threat of terrorism into account.
“They knew that the situation was risky and were working in that context,” Rousseau said, and Climat 21 is “ready to work even more with the government to make sure our mobilization is safe. But we can’t accept an argument that basically tells us we shouldn’t go on the street anymore.”
Turnout could be damped by safety concern among activists themselves, particularly those who plan to come from abroad.
Rousseau noted that thousands of Parisians have defied the emergency ban on public assembly to gather and show their resistance to the fear the terrorists hoped to sow.
But one of those spontaneous demonstrations, in the Place de la Republique, descended into chaos when participants mistook some loud noises for gunshots and scattered in panic.
Islamic State is no doubt trying to learn something from why most of the suicide bombers last Friday wound up doing little damage, Allard said. The three who struck the Stade de France sports arena and the one who detonated his explosives outside a cafe managed between them to kill only one other person.
But given the planning and organization that such a coordinated assault requires, Allard said, it would be a stretch for Islamic terrorists to try to mount another large operation so soon afterward.
“The gendarmerie, police and even the army will be dispatched around the French territory, and that could be difficult even for a terrorist to try to do something,” he said. “But the problem is that we aren’t able to [sustain] that in the long term.”
As long as the conference is on track, Rousseau said, so are the plans of her organization and others to attend and keep up the pressure on delegates to commit to serious steps to prevent ecological disaster.
“We need to make sure that our mobilizations are safe,” Rousseau said. “But in the meantime … we can’t accept to be ruled by fear.”
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