Riots, protests and climate uprisings: 2023 was a tumultuous year in France

France encountered severe turbulence over the past 12 months, roiled by a long and bitter battle over pension reform as well as crippling droughts, sizzling heatwaves and nationwide rioting. FRANCE 24 takes a look at some of the top stories from a year of turmoil.

Even by French standards, 2023 was a year of exceptional social unrest, marked by France’s largest protest movement this century and the worst bout of rioting in almost two decades. From start to end, President Emmanuel Macron’s minority government struggled to pass legislation in a fractious and bitterly divided parliament, often opting to bypass it altogether. Severe droughts and unseasonal heatwaves pushed the life-threatening challenges of climate change to the fore, while a nationwide bedbug frenzy brought unwanted attention from abroad as the country hosted the Rugby World Cup and raced to prepare for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

  • Pension battle ends in Pyrrhic win for Macron

A montage of President Emmanuel Macron as the “Sun King” Louis XIV at a protest against pension reform in Paris on March 23, 2023. © Benjamin Dodman, FRANCE 24

Macron kicked off the year with a push to overhaul France’s pension system, setting the stage for a showdown with a united front of unions. The French president staked his reformist credentials on passage of the flagship reform, which raised the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 – a step his government said was necessary to balance the books amid shifting demographics. Unions countered that the reform would disproportionately affect low-skilled workers and women, successfully framing the pension debate as part of a wider fight for social justice.

The months-long tussle saw opponents of the reform stage multiple rounds of strikes and protests, drawing huge crowds in cities, towns and even villages across France. Refinery shutdowns and transport strikes caused travel chaos while a walkout by rubbish collectors kicked up a “great stink” in the streets of Paris – though unions ultimately failed in their bid to “paralyse” the country. Throughout the standoff, polls consistently showed that a large majority of the French opposed the reform, piling the pressure on a government already outnumbered in parliament.

Violence flared in late March when Macron ordered his government to ram the reform through parliament without a vote, using special executive powers. The move sparked several nights of unrest and turned the festering social dispute into a crisis of French democracy. Police crackdowns and controversial rulings by France’s constitutional court helped snuff out the movement, handing Macron a pyrrhic victory – though in the weeks that followed he could scarcely take a step outside the Élysée Palace without being greeted by protesters banging pots and pans.

  • Teen’s death sets off nationwide riots

Fireworks target French riot police during protests in Nanterre, west of Paris, on June 28, 2023.
Fireworks target French riot police during protests in Nanterre, west of Paris, on June 28, 2023. © Zakaria Abdelkafiz, AFP

Running battles between riot police and pension protesters revived a long-standing debate on police brutality in France – with human rights monitors both at home and abroad raising the alarm over officers’ “excessive use of force”. The scrutiny only increased in late June when towns and cities across the country erupted in rage at the killing of Nahel M., a 17-year-old of North African origin who was shot dead by police during a routine traffic stop in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

Social media footage of the incident, which contradicted police claims that Nahel had posed a threat to officers, kicked off several nights of rioting in France’s deprived and ethnically diverse suburbs, known as banlieues, where non-white youths have long complained of being singled out by police. Rioters focused their attacks on symbols of the state, including police stations, schools and town halls. The Interior Ministry said that more than 1,000 buildings and 5,000 vehicles were torched. 

In a rare criticism of the police, Macron described the fatal shooting as “inexplicable” and “unforgivable”, while the UN’s human rights office urged France to “seriously address the deep issues of racism and discrimination in law enforcement”. However, the initial expressions of outrage soon gave way to hardline law-and-order rhetoric amid consecutive nights of rioting. And as police unions openly spoke of battling “vermin” and “savage hordes”, analysts feared the real lessons of Nahel’s killing – like other past tragedies – would not be learned.

A protester holds up a Palestinian flag at an unauthorised rally in solidarity with Gaza held in central Paris on October 12, 2023.
A protester holds up a Palestinian flag at an unauthorised rally in solidarity with Gaza held in central Paris on October 12, 2023. © AFP

When the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas launched a murderous attack on southern Israel on October 7, triggering a ferocious and devastating Israeli response, French authorities openly voiced concern that the conflict might stoke further unrest in France, home to Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim populations. 

A spike in anti-Semitic acts sowed anguish among French Jews and politicians of all stripes took part in a Paris march to denounce anti-Semitism, though the presence of Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally led some opponents to shun the rally. Meanwhile, rights groups voiced dismay as the government banned pro-Palestinian protests on the grounds that they might “disturb public order”, until judges ruled that a blanket ban was unlawful. The war also sparked a rare dispute at an annual march against gender-based violence in Paris, signaling tensions between French feminists over their response to sexual crimes attributed to Hamas. 

Fears that the plight of Gaza would inspire Islamist militants to carry out attacks on French soil appeared to materialise on October 13 when a high-school teacher in northern Arras was stabbed to death by a radicalised former pupil who originated from Russia’s Ingushetia – reigniting the trauma of Samuel Paty’s beheading in 2020. In the days following the Arras stabbing, government ministers suggested the war in Gaza may have “precipitated” events, though investigators were yet to establish a formal link with the assailant, who had declared allegiance to the Islamic State group prior to the attack.

  • Far right hails hardline immigration law

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin spent much of the year trying to build support in parliament for a tough new immigration law.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin attends a session of questions to the government at The National Assembly in Paris on December 12, 2023. © Bertrand Guay, AFP

For Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, the Arras knife attack proved the need for new legislation making it easier to expel foreign nationals suspected of radicalisation. The hawkish minister had spent much of the year trying to build parliamentary support for a tough new “immigration law”, which rights groups condemned as repressive. His efforts appeared to have collapsed when opposition lawmakers banded together to shoot down the bill before it was even debated in the National Assembly. 

In response, the government submitted an even tougher law to win over right-wing lawmakers, introducing measures that discriminate between citizens and immigrants in terms of eligibility to benefits. The law was harsh enough for Le Pen to claim it as an “ideological victory” for her National Rally and its passage with support from the far right sparked a crisis within Macron’s ruling party, leading his health minister to resign in protest. In a rare move, a third of French regions vowed not to comply with some of its toughest measures. 

  • Droughts, heatwaves and climate uprisings

Burnt sunflowers pictured in a field near the village of Puy Saint Martin, in southeastern France, on August 22, 2023.
Burnt sunflowers pictured in a field near the village of Puy Saint Martin, in southeastern France, on August 22, 2023. © Jeff Pachoud, AFP

The ubiquitous Darmanin made headlines throughout the year as he ordered the disbanding of a range of groups he deemed extremist. They included the climate movement Les Soulèvements de la Terre (“Earth’s uprisings”), whose attempt to prevent the construction of controversial water reservoirs resulted in a pitched battle with police that left hundreds injured and two people in a coma. The interior minister accused the group of inciting “ecoterrorism”, but his attempt to ban it was quashed by France’s top administrative court.

The clashes at Sainte-Soline were indicative of mounting tensions between corporate farming and environmental activists as the country grappled with recurrent and increasingly unseasonal heatwaves, which put further stress on fragile ecosystems already weakened by crippling droughts. The climate emergency cast a spotlight on livestock farming and eating habits, with meat consumption the biggest contributor to food-related greenhouse gas emissions. 

Adapting the way farmers use water resources was one of 50 measures included in a water-saving plan unveiled in March, following an exceptionally dry winter. Extraordinary measures were required to help the Indian ocean island of Mayotte, where the worst drought in decades forced the government to send a military cargo ship stacked with drinking water. And in Paris, where scientists warned that temperatures could reach 50C by 2050, volunteers used a pioneering tree-planting method to create pocket forests offering shelter from the heat. 

  • Paris Olympics feel the heat

An illustration showing the concept for the Paris Olympics opening ceremony, to be staged on the River Seine.
An illustration showing the concept for the Paris Olympics opening ceremony, to be staged on the River Seine. © Florian Hulleu, AFP

As the French capital grappled with the challenges of climate change, organisers of next year’s Summer Olympics struggled to back up their pledge to make the Paris 2024 Games the “greenest” yet. In May, they backtracked on a promise to eliminate more greenhouse gas emissions than those generated by the event, while insisting Paris 2024 would still halve the carbon footprint of previous games. But delays to transport upgrades threatened to jeopardise emissions targets, while climate activists described carbon-offsetting plans as little more than “greenwashing”.

Ambitious plans to host the opening ceremony along the River Seine – rather than inside a stadium – also came under scrutiny as officials released an 11-page security protocol aimed at shielding the event from the threats of terrorism, drone attacks and other risks. The protocol triggered a rare protest by the French capital’s famed bouquinistes, whose iconic riverside book kiosks will be dismantled for the occasion. The Seine churned up more headaches for organisers when pollution levels repeatedly forced the cancellation of trials for swimming events set to be held in the river.

  • Hosts fall short at Rugby World Cup

France's captain Antoine Dupont (left) and lock Cameron Woki react after the hosts' quarter-final defeat at the Rugby World Cup.
France’s captain Antoine Dupont (left) and lock Cameron Woki react after the hosts’ quarter-final defeat at the Rugby World Cup. © Franck Fife, AFP

Doubts about France’s ability to host large sporting events had simmered since the Champions League final hosted at the Stade de France in May 2022, when French police notoriously doused Liverpool fans with tear gas and pepper spray amid a chaotic build-up marred by train strikes and issues of fake ticketing. This year’s Rugby World Cup, hosted at the same venue and in eight other French cities, was a chance for France to make amends and prove its readiness – a challenge organisers largely pulled off.

The seven-week rugby extravaganza kicked off with a memorable French win over old rivals New Zealand, which bolstered the home nation’s hopes of winning a maiden World Cup title. Those hopes took a blow when a fractured cheekbone stripped the hosts of their talismanic skipper Antoine Dupond. The fly-half returned with a face mask for the crunch quarter-final against title holders South Africa but could not prevent an agonising one-point defeat for Les Bleus. After edging England by the same margin in the semis, the Springboks went on to grab the narrowest of wins over the All Blacks in the final, clinching a record fourth World Cup title. 

  • Bedbugs, tiger mosquitoes and trotinettes

Self-service e-scooters were banished from the streets of Paris after a public consultation marked by record-low turnout.
Self-service e-scooters were banished from the streets of Paris after a public consultation marked by record-low turnout. © Thomas Coex, AFP

Midway through the tournament, concern over an increase in the number of bedbugs rapidly spiralled into national hysteria, with the bloodsucking pests making headlines both in France and abroad. Cinemas, trains and Paris metros were said to be crawling with the tiny insects and one lawmaker brandished a vial of bugs in the National Assembly, urging the government to address the “explosive situation”. But officials insisted there was no scientific evidence to suggest any explosion in bedbugs, and that images posted on social media did not necessarily mean growing numbers.

Health authorities appeared more concerned about the spread of the Asian tiger mosquito as evidence emerged that the black-and-white striped insect had settled in 71 of the country’s 96 mainland départements (administrative units). With climate change creating perfect conditions for its proliferation, experts warned that the invasive species threatened to spread diseases like zika, dengue and chikungunya.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo tackled a very different type of nuisance when she called a referendum on banning self-service e-scooters, citing irresponsible use and a rising accident toll. The April vote was billed as a showdown between trottinettes-hating boomers and Gen Z, the service’s main users. But only the former showed up for the low-turnout ballot, and the e-scooters were duly banished from the streets of Paris.

  • Ukrainian art, Gainsbourg and a fiery Palme d’Or

This Byzantine icon of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, dating from 6th-7th centuries, went on show at the Louvre after it was evacuated from Ukraine.
This Byzantine icon of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, dating from 6th-7th centuries, went on show at the Louvre after it was evacuated from Ukraine. © Khanenko Museum

As always, the French capital’s museums and galleries served up an abundance of art shows, dedicated to the likes of Vincent van Gogh, Marc Chagall and Berthe Morisot. Paris exhibits showcased Ukrainian art work evacuated following Russia’s invasion last year, taking the fight for the country’s heritage to the world-famous Louvre. Photographer Robert Doisneau’s little-known work forging documents during the Nazi occupation was the subject of a groundbreaking show near Paris, and the iconic Left Bank home of singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg finally opened to the public – its ashtrays still brimming with Gitanes cigarette butts.

Down on the Riviera, French director Justine Triet won the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or for her thrilling courtroom drama “Anatomy of a Fall” – becoming only the third female director to win cinema’s most prestigious award. But it was a bittersweet success for Macron and his ministers, whose cultural policies and conduct during France’s pension battle she proceeded to rubbish in a fiery acceptance speech broadcast live on national television.

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‘Like Waze, but for toilets’: The start-up hoping to solve Paris’s public urination problem

A new application that rewards businesses for making their toilets accessible to the public and helps users to find them is being rolled out in a Paris suburb. If everything goes to plan, the ICI Toilettes app could make its way into the capital – right in time for the Olympics. 

Public urination is high on the list of critiques of the French capital, along with rats, noise, and people not picking up their dogs’ business. Referred to in France as le pipi sauvage, or “wild peeing”, the propensity for public urination – which is technically illegal and mainly male – is explained by many factors, though a lack of available public toilets is a fundamental one. 

Over the years, Parisian leaders have proposed a number of innovative solutions but, so far, to no avail. In 2018, for instance, certain arrondissements (districts) introduced bright red, eco-friendly uritrottoirs, public installations whose name was a portmanteau of the French words for “urinal” and “sidewalk”. They were criticised for being too visible and only useful for men, and then vandalised by protesters.

The newest scheme to combat the ongoing problem comes from a start-up from the western city of Nantes called Urban Services.

ICI Toilettes (“Toilets HERE”) has two main functions. First, it is a geolocation application that helps users locate public toilets and allows them to update the status of the facility if it is in disrepair. This helps members of the public find the closest functional bathroom in real time and keeps local authorities informed about the state of the city’s sanitation infrastructure.

“It’s like Waze, but for toilets,” says founder and Urban Services CEO Thomas Herquin, referring to the crowd-sourced traffic app. 

The app’s second function is to create a network of local businesses that extend their facilities to the public, all of which are visible on the application. This expands the city’s sanitation capacity by making certain bars and restaurants de facto public toilets. These “partners” are given €100 each month by the local authorities for their participation – ICI Toilettes says this is one-twelfth the cost of setting up and maintaining a public restroom.

First launched in 2021 in Nantes, the application has now made it to the populous suburb of Montreuil on the eastern edge of the capital. The service is set to be rolled out in Grenoble and Urban Services is currently in talks with Saint-Denis, the municipality just north of Paris.

The big prize, Paris, is also in view, as France makes a big investment push before the 2024 Olympic Games. In late September, the start-up was awarded a conditional grant by the ministry of tourism. Urban Services stands to earn between €100,000 and €200,000 if it manages to set up a network of 100 partner retailers in Paris by June 15, 2024 – a number Herquin says will raise the capital’s public toilet capacity by 25%.    

The idea for the app came to Herquin when he was searching for ideas to enter a start-up competition in Nantes that he ended up winning. For market research, he surveyed people on what they thought were the biggest problems they face while commuting. The first was their ability to charge phones, the second, and much more difficult to resolve, was access to sanitary facilities.

Herquin maintains that the restaurants and bars that share their toilets should be considered “complementary” to what is already in place in the city. However, he adds, his application does provide its own benefits.

“According to our research, 85% of women do not use public toilet facilities for several reasons (like hygiene and comfort) so we offer them another option,” says Herquin.

Public urination, Herquin points out, is a serious issue with serious financial consequences. “In Paris alone, 56,000m2 of walls and doors are ruined by urine every month. That can be very costly,” he says.

On whether his business has the potential to help resolve the issue, he is less certain. “The main people who require our services are women. Men seem to have found a solution already, although it is not very clean,” Herquin says.

“But we do hope, with time we can help change the culture.”

What’s more, ICI Toilettes gives people the confidence to go and ask businesses to use their bathrooms, a feature that will particularly serve tourists who are unfamiliar with the French language or their customs related to restrooms. 

In Montreuil, finding the ICI Toilettes sticker is increasingly easy. The service has now been adopted by 10 businesses.

For Putsch café in central Montreuil, signing up with ICI Toilettes doesn’t seem to have changed much except for an extra €100 in the cash register each month. “I know some restaurants can be strict, but we’ve always been open,” says Laurine Ragot, a server at the café. “But we have seen an increase since the app, especially women and people with children desperate to pee.”

Putsch, a cafe in Montreuil that has signed up for ICI Toilettes, November 9, 2023. © Gregor Thompson, FRANCE 24

ICI Toilettes is a welcome change in a city where authorities have long been criticised for the lack of public sanitation infrastructure. Women’s association Maison des femmes de Montreuil recently described the situation as a “hygiene scandal” in French daily Le Parisien

Since signing on with Urban Services in June, “Montreuil has gone from seven public toilet facilities to 17,” says Montreuil’s Deputy Mayor Luc Di Gallo. 

For now, the businesses signed up to ICI Toilettes are concentrated in the city’s centre. The plan is to increase this number and distribute participating establishments more equally throughout the city. 

But ICI Toilettes is no silver bullet, says Di Gallo. People cannot access the app without a smartphone, and it wouldn’t be a viable option for businesses near busy areas like markets, which are unlikely to sign up because they could be inundated by the public.  

“For instances like this, it’s probably better to build public toilets that can [serve] significantly more people.” 

As part of a larger strategy, the response from the public has been “extremely positive”, says Di Gallo, adding that it makes the city more inclusive by meeting the needs of “women, the elderly and disabled people”, who have described the difficulties they encounter when out in public with no access to facilities.

“Of course, we also hope that those who degrade our public spaces will now be more inclined to use a toilet,” Di Gallo says. 

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‘Obstacle course’ for the disabled: Can Paris transport be made accessible in time for the Olympics?

The Summer 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games are accelerating plans to improve disabled access in and around the French capital, according to organisers. But plans for the Paris public transport network have sparked concern that the temporary improvements imagined for the games are a “missed opportunity” for lasting change.

Serge Mabilly types his destination into his mobile phone: the Bercy Arena in Paris’s 12th arrondissement(district). From the metro stop at Place d’Italie, the 2km journey should take around 15 minutes on metro line 6.

But for Mabilly, who is in his 50s, it will take around 40 minutes – a wheelchair user, there is no way for him to navigate the maze of stairs at his nearest metro station.

“Paris is like an obstacle course for people with reduced mobility,” said Mabilly, vice-president of the APF France handicap association. “They are going to have to speed up [improvements] to be ready for the Olympic and Paralympic games.”

350,000 disabled users

Since Paris put itself forward in 2015 as a candidate to host the games, organisers have committed to holding an “inclusive and accessible” competition that would have a tangible positive impact on the 12 million people in France – 17% of the population – who have motor, sensory, cognitive or mental disabilities.

Much of Paris’s housing, roads, transport links, Olympic sites and shops are being newly built or upgraded ahead of the 2024 games. But of all these projects, public transport in the greater Paris region in the Île-de-France seems to pose the biggest accessibility challenge.

An estimated 350,000 disabled people will want to travel between sites in the capital in summer 2024, which breaks down to 4,000 to 5,000 users per day with limited mobility.

But just one year ahead of the competition, taking the metro, the bus or an overground RER train remains a nightmare for disabled travellers.

“The metro is the worst,” said Mabilly. “Only line 14 and a few other stations are accessible, otherwise it’s just stairs everywhere. And I can’t even count the number of times the lifts are out of order.”

Often, Mabilly’s only option is to make do with the bus. “But the waiting times are much longer, and you’re more dependent on traffic,” he said. “I often can’t even get on the bus because the access ramp is broken, or it’s already too full of passengers, or the bus hasn’t been able to park properly.”

Adding to the issues with public transport, things like potholes, high kerbsides and road work can make negotiating city streets a trial. “When you have a motor disability, you either need to be patient, athletic or be able to take a car,” Mabilly said.

Transport authority Île-de-France Mobilités has pledged to step up improvements ahead of the Games.

A €1.5 billion budget has been allocated to improving accessibility at the 270 national rail stations in greater Paris serving more than 5,000 users a day. There are plans to install raised platforms and upgrade audible alerts, guidance paths, signage and assistance.

“All tram lines, and the A and B RER lines, have been improved already, and by 2024 all the bus routes in the region will be complete,” said Grégoire de Lasteyrie, the vice president overseeing the Paris area at Île-de-France Mobilités.

It is, however, “much more complex” to make changes to the metro, he said. “The network is 100 years old and some stations cannot be changed.”

Even so, four more metro stations are set to be made accessible by 2024, increasing the total to 18.

“And the 21 new stations created by extending lines 4, 11, 12 and 14 will be more accessible as well,” de Lasteyrie said.

Shuttle buses, taxis, parking

In total, 5% of the metro network will be accessible to disabled users during the Olympic and Paralympic games.

The organising committee has acknowledged that the planned improvements will not be enough to transport all of the expected disabled visitors to and from the 24 Olympic sites in greater Paris.

Too make up the shortfall, it has proposed multiple solutions.

Access to an on-demand public transport system for disabled users called PAM (Pour Aider à la Mobilité, “helping mobility”) will be simplified and its prices reduced to €2 per ticket. Disabled access shuttle buses will be situated at major stations and Olympic sites.

The government has promised to increase the number of wheelchair-accessible taxis in the capital from 200 to up to 1,000 vehicles.

Parking and pick-up spots closest to Olympic sites will also be reserved for disabled access.

“Our overall approach is to guarantee support that meets the needs of disabled spectators at the Olympic and Paralympic games, from the start to the end of their visit,” said Ludivine Munos, head of Paralympic integration and accessibility for the Paris 2024 Organising Committee, and a former paralympic swimmer.

“For transport, that means offering a number of alternatives.”

“We are also working in the areas surrounding stations and Olympic sites to make sure that everyone can get around as easily as possible, without barriers.”

Mabilly welcomes the plans but still has some doubts. “The shuttle bus system sounds very good on paper, but we still need to be able to make it to the departure stations. Are we going to have to use public transport to get there?”

As a wheelchair tennis player, Mabilly is planning to buy tickets to watch his favourite sport. For now, he doesn’t know how he will get to Roland Garros, the venue west of Paris where matches will be played.

“The current plan only covers places for a disabled person and one accompanying person. What if I wanted to go with my family? There are four of us. How should we do it? Will we have to split up?”

“And we’re talking about [transport for] 350,000 people. Will there be enough shuttle buses and parking spots available?”

An inclusive legacy?

An accessible Olympic Games has been all but ensured for the roughly 9,000 paralympic athletes who will compete. They will be housed in the athletes’ village in Seine-Saint-Denis, which is set to be completely accessible and inclusive, from purpose-built showers to street signage.

Read moreParis 2024 Olympic Village: A welcome makeover of Seine-Saint-Denis?

But what legacy will remain after the athletes leave?

Nicolas Mérille, the national accessibility adviser at APF France handicap, has attended meetings on expanding access with the Olympics Organising Committee, transport authorities and the government. He is concerned that “short-term measures” introduced for the event risk overshadowing an overall “lack of progress”.

“The Olympic and Paralympic Games were the perfect opportunity to make considerable improvements to accessibility in Paris and the capital’s greater Île-de-France region,” he said. “We hear a lot about the legacy of the Games, but in terms of transport it seems that it will be – unfortunately – quite limited.”

Mérille’s disappointment is not entirely unexpected – France has long trailed behind comparable nations in legislating for the interests of disabled people.

A UN report in 2021 called on the French government to “review and bring into line” disability laws and policies that did not comply with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the national, departmental and municipal level.

These included the definition of a disability in the national Equal Rights and Opportunities Act of 2005, which, the report said, was focussed on the idea of preventing and treating disabilities even though the act enshrined into French law the notion that accessibility should be guaranteed for all.

Almost two decades after the law was introduced, Mérille has not given up hope.

“There’s still a year to go, and all parties seem motivated,” he said. “There is still time to pick up the pace so that the Games are not just a success in summer 2024, but afterwards, as well.”

(This article was adapted from the original in French.)

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Paris ‘bouquinistes’ resist plans to remove riverside book kiosks for Olympics

The green, second-hand book kiosks that line the River Seine are beloved by both tourists and locals, but new plans could see the distinctive sheds dismantled as part of a massive security operation for the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, set to take place along the river. But the bouquinistes are fighting to keep their open-air shops open.

On a warm August afternoon, there is plenty of interest in the bookshops along Paris’s riverbanks. Tourists and locals walking the route between the Seine and the Hôtel de Ville city hall browse through the kerbside stalls, propped open to display vintage and second-hand books, posters, old maps and souvenirs for sale.

Hundreds of these green “boxes” are attached to the riverbank walls along a three-kilometre stretch of the river that passes right through the heart of the French capital. They are as familiar and distinctive a Parisian sight as the tops of Notre Dame’s towers rising above the rooftops behind them.

“We’ve been along the quays of the Seine for 450 years, and on the parapets since they were built by Napoleon III,” says one bouquiniste who has been an official delegate representing the booksellers along the central stretch of the right bank for 30 years.

Now the traditional shops are facing an unexpected threat. At the end of July, Paris city hall said that the kiosks would have to be removed when the city hosts the Summer Olympic Games in July and August 2024.

The opening ceremony is set to be a ground-breaking event, taking place – for the first time – not inside a stadium but along the river itself, with massive crowds expected to watch from the quays.

The unique open-air spectacle requires a colossal security operation and the kiosks must be taken down as a safety measure, the Paris prefecture said in July.

Read moreFrance unveils security plan for Olympics opening ceremony in central Paris

“They’re worried that people are going to climb on the boxes. But if the boxes are open, they can’t. And there’ll be railings [installed], which are dangerous too,” says Juliette, who has been selling books along the quays for a year. “All the booksellers here will tell you they don’t agree with the plans.”  

Her sentiments are echoed by Lim, who is running his wife’s shop for the day. He has just sold a second-hand children’s book to an elderly French customer. “I don’t understand why they would remove them. The boxes are a part of Paris,” he says.

“The biggest problem for me is the symbolism,” says Camille, who has sold books on the Seine for 10 years and has owned her own kiosks for five.

“For a ceremony that will last four hours, they want to make us move for months. We are part of the Paris landscape. Removing us is like removing a building.”

The bouquinistes also have practical concerns. The summer months are typically the busiest time of year for the open-air shops, as good weather brings more foot traffic and tourists to the city centre.

“Summer is the time when we make money for the rest of the year. It’s what allows us to survive. If we miss a summer of work, it’s very difficult to bounce back,” Camille says, pausing to sell a collection of vintage Vogue magazine photos to two tourists in their 20s.

Tourist numbers in Paris are expected to rise to more than 10 million in summer 2024, thanks to the Games.

To make sure the booksellers don’t miss out completely, Paris city hall has suggested they could move to a dedicated book market near the Place de la Bastille in order to keep trading over the summer months.

The idea has not been well received. In their current location, the sellers are perfectly positioned to attract foot traffic from the busy Arcole bridge that connects tourist sites on the Île de la Cité to the vibrant Marais district on the right bank. By contrast, “there’s no one at Bastille”, says Juliette.

The idea of going from bouquiniste to market stall seller also doesn’t appeal. There is an evident sense of pride among the shopkeepers that their presence in the city centre contributes to the capital’s cultural heritage in a unique way. “People who come to us come for the boxes, for their character. They represent Paris,” Juliette adds.

Uncertainty

Paris city hall has said it will manage the removal, storage and reinstallation of an estimated 570 kiosks “located within the opening ceremony security perimeter” ahead of the games, but questions abound on how the feat will be achieved.

“Where will they put them? How will we get them back? And how long will it last for?” Lim asks. “[City hall] doesn’t have the answers. There’s a lot of uncertainty.”

Shoppers look at products on sale at Lim’s kiosk along the quays of the Seine, August 15, 2023. © Joanna York, FRANCE 24

Shopkeepers are also worried about the impact the move will have on the kiosks themselves.

“They’re not made to be moved,” says Camille. “Each box is made differently because they’re all made by different people. It takes a lot of time to take them down and a good understanding of how they’re made.”

“Some boxes are very old. Mine are [30 years old], and every time I’ve moved them, they get a little damaged.”

Then there is the stock to think about. A seller with multiple kiosks can store thousands of books inside, some of which could be rare and fragile collectibles.

Camille has 2,000 books that will need to be stored elsewhere if her kiosks are dismantled. “I don’t have anywhere else to keep them. Unless I fill up my apartment for two months,” she says.

A few kiosks down, the 30-year booksellers’ delegate runs a stall that looks, at a glance, sparser than the others. There are no souvenirs or posters for sale; instead, his is dedicated entirely to rare, vintage books. In fact he is rarely at his own, instead walking from kiosk to kiosk speaking to different customers and shopkeepers, enjoying the atmosphere and opportunities for conversation that the rows of booksellers bring to what would otherwise be a busy riverside sidewalk.

His role as delegate puts him in regular contact with Paris city hall, and he was shocked at how officials broke the news of plans to remove the bouquinistes.

“There was no discussion,” he says. “I thought we were going to a meeting to prepare for the Games. But city hall had already made an administrative decision, validated it with the prefecture, and none of us bouquinistes were consulted during the process.”

He fears local officials do not value what the bouquinistes bring to the riverside, saying there have been previous attempts to convert the boxes into enclosed rental spaces or to move the shopkeepers outside of the city centre. His major concern is that, once removed, the kiosks may never return.

“All we have is a verbal promise, and we can’t just work with that. The sensible thing to do is to stay where we are, and we hope we have support to do that.”

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Key dates to remember ahead of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris

Paris is gearing up for a summer of sports as it prepares to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The city is already abuzz with preparations for the opening ceremony, test events and the journey of the Olympic torch relay. FRANCE 24 takes a look at the key dates leading up to start of the 2024 Summer Games.

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The countdown is on. On July 26, 2024, the Summer Olympics will kick off in Paris, followed shortly after by the Paralympic Games. For nearly a month the French capital will become the focus of international sport as it hosts more than 300 competitions between July 26 and August 11.

July 9-16, 2023: Marseilles sailing test event

The Paris 2024 Organising Committee is holding a sailing test event in Marseilles to evaluate the infrastructure and racing areas in preparation for the Olympic Games.

July 26, 2023: D-365 to the Olympic Games

On July 26, 2023, the 365-day countdown to the official start of the Games in Paris begins, coinciding with the 100-year anniversary of the last Summer Games held on French soil. FRANCE 24 will dedicate a special day across its platforms to celebrate the event.

August 17-20, 2023: Paris triathlon test event

Paris and its iconic Alexandre III bridge will host an Olympic and Paralympic Games triathlon test event from August 17-20. Individual races will take place on August 17 and 18, a para-triathlon will be held on the 19th and the mixed relay on August 20.

July 26 and 27, 2023: French youth golf championships

The Olympic configuration of the Golf National de Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines will be put to the test during the French Youth Championship on July 26 and 27.

August 2-6, 2023: World Rowing Under 19 Championship

Vaires-sur-Marne stadium will host tests for sprint canoeing, slalom canoeing and rowing events. Rowing will serve as the inaugural test event for Paris 2024 during the U19 World Championships.  

August 5-6, 2023: Fourth stage of the open water world cup

A round of the Open Water Swimming World Cup will take place in the Seine near Alexandre III bridge.

August 11-20, 2023: World surfing league (WSL) stopover in Tahiti

Even France’s overseas territories will get a taste of Olympic fever, hosting surfing events in Tahiti, French Polynesia, on the legendary Teahupo’o wave. The WSL 2023 will assess the venue’s Olympic preparations in coordination with the Paris Olympic committee.

August 19- 20, 2023: Fourth stage of the archery world cup

Archery will take centre stage against the backdrop of the iconic Paris Les Invalides landmark. The fourth leg of the 2023 World Cup will be held in Paris, offering a glimpse at the future archery venue for the Games.

August 28, 2023: 365 Days until the Paralympic Games

Since their first appearance in Rome in 1960, the Paralympic Games have grown in importance. As the world’s leading parasport event, they are a unique opportunity for athletes with disabilities. One year before the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games, FRANCE 24 will dedicate a special edition to this event.

August 30 to September 1, 2023: Canoeing and para-canoeing World Cups

Following rowing events, the Vaires-sur-Marne Olympic site will test sprint canoeing and para-canoeing during the World Cup held at the centre.

September 2023: Volunteers receive their assignments

Between September and the end of the year, the Paris organising committee will notify the 45,000 selected volunteers for the Olympic Games about their specific assignments. However, some may be called upon during the summer to participate in test events, such as the sailing event in Marseilles or the triathlon in Paris.

September 23 and 24, 2023: MTB test event

This will be a dress rehearsal for the Olympic Games. A preparatory race for the mountain bike event of Paris 2024 will be held on September 23-24 at Élancourt Hill, the highest point in the Île-de-France region, located in the Yvelines department.

October 5-8, 2023: Canoe slalom world cup finals

The final test event at the Vaires-sur-Marne centre will be the canoe slalom World Cup finals.

October 9, 2023: Paralympic Games tickets open

Official ticket sales for the Paralympic Games, scheduled from August 28 to September 8, 2024, will open this October 9. Half of the tickets available for sale will be priced at €25 or less.

April 8-14, 2024: Event at Châteauroux national shooting centre

Test competitions are scheduled to take place at the Châteauroux national shooting centre in Indre from April 8-14, 2024.

April 29, 2024: 100 days until the Olympic Games

From April 29 to May 8, 2024: Olympic aquatic centre test event

The final venue to be completed, the Saint-Denis Olympic Aquatic Centre, will be put to the test with targeted events featuring artistic swimming, diving and water polo from April 29 to May 8, 2024.

May 4-5, 2024: Field hockey test event

Yves-du-Manoir stadium in Colombes will be put to the test with an international field hockey tournament from May 4-5, 2024. While the venue may have changed since the 1924 Olympic Games, it remains a direct legacy of the last Summer Olympics in the French capital.

May 8, 2024: Arrival of the Olympic flame in Marseilles

After a 10-day journey from Greece on the Belém, one of Europe‘s oldest three-masted sailing ships, the Olympic flame will arrive in France. Marseilles, with its strong historical ties to Greece, will first welcome the flame to its shores before it embarks on the 775km (480 mile) journey to the capital.

July 14, 2024: Arrival of the Olympic flame in Paris

After traversing more than 60 French departments, the Olympic flame will arrive in Paris on July 14, the Bastille Day national holiday.

July 24, 2024: Start of events

Some team sports will kick off even before the opening ceremony. The Rugby 7s and soccer matches will begin on July 24, while handball starts the following day.

July 26, 2024: Olympic Games opening ceremony

Paris will kick off the Games with a spectacular opening ceremony on July 26, 2024. Organised outside of a stadium for the first time, the ceremony will start at 8:24pm as approximately 100 boats carrying the athlete delegations set sail down the Seine from Pont d’Austerlitz in the east to the Eiffel Tower.

August 11, 2024: Olympic Games closing ceremony

The closing ceremony of the Paris Olympics will take place at the Stade de France, but it won’t mark the end of the Olympic sequence as the Paralympic Games will take some 17 days later.

August 28, 2024: Paralympic Games opening ceremony

As one competition ends, another begins. The first-ever French Paralympic Games will open on August 28 for 11 days of competition with an open-air ceremony between the Champs-Élysées and Place de la Concorde.

September 8, 2024: Paralympic Games closing ceremony

That’s a wrap for Paris 2024: The Paralympic Games will come to a close, bringing an end to Paris’s Olympic summer.  

The article was adapted from French. To read the original click here.

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Critics claim Paris using 2024 Games to introduce Big Brother video surveillance

France’s National Assembly is due to adopt a law on Tuesday ahead of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. Article 7 is the most controversial aspect of this law, as it will allow AI video surveillance to be used to detect abnormal behaviour. Human rights organisations and the French left have condemned the measure.  

The all-encompassing law that France’s National Assembly is due to adopt on March 28, ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, will allow shops to open on Sundays, establish a health centre in the department of Seine-Saint-Denis (located northeast of Paris) and permit the French state to investigate future accredited persons. However, Article 7 of this law is particularly controversial, as it states that AI video surveillance may be used, on a trial basis, to ensure the safety of the Olympic Games. Human rights groups say the use of this technology will set a dangerous precedent.  

During the preliminary phase, Article 7 was adopted by the presidential majority, France’s right-wing party Les Républicains and the far-right National Rally. The New Ecological and Social People’s Union (NUPES), a coalition of left-wing parties, opposed it. It will allow algorithm-driven video surveillance technology to be used to ensure the safety of large-scale “sporting, recreational or cultural events” on a trial basis.  

‘An all-out assault on rights to privacy’

“Algorithmic video surveillance is a new form of technology that uses computer software to analyse images captured by surveillance cameras in real time,” explains Arnaud Touati, a lawyer specialised in digital law. “The algorithms used in the software are notably based on machine learning technology, which allows AI video surveillance, over time, to continue to improve and adapt to new situations.” 

Proponents of this technology claim to be able to anticipate crowd movements and spot abandoned luggage or potentially dangerous incidents. Compared to traditional video surveillance, everything is automated with algorithms in charge of analysis – which, according to those in favour of this technology, limits human errors. 

“While France promotes itself as a champion of human rights globally, its decision to legalize AI-powered mass surveillance during the Olympics will lead to an all-out assault on the rights to privacy, protest, and freedom of assembly and expression,” Amnesty International said in a statement after the article was passed. 

A herald of future video surveillance across Europe? 

Katia Roux, the NGO’s technology and human rights specialist, explains that this technology can elicit many fears. “Under international law, legislation must respect the strict principles of necessity and proportionality. In this case, however, the legislator has not demonstrated this,” she says. “We are talking about assessment technology, which has to evaluate behaviours and categorise them as at risk so that measures can be taken afterwards.”  


TECH 24 © FRANCE 24

 

“This technology is not legal today. In France, experiments have been done but not within the legal framework that this law proposes to create,” she said. “Nor is it legal at the European level. It is even brought up during discussions in the European Parliament about technology and the regulation of artificial intelligence systems. The legislation could therefore also violate the European regulation currently being drafted.” 

“By adopting this law, France would become the champion of video surveillance in the EU and set an extremely dangerous precedent. It would send an extremely worrying signal to countries that might be tempted to use this technology against their own population,” she continued. 

Discriminatory? 

One fear is that the seemingly cold and infallible algorithm may in fact contain discriminatory biases. “These algorithms are going to be trained using a set of data decided and designed by human beings. They will therefore be able to incorporate the discriminatory biases of the people who conceived and designed them,” says Roux. 

“AI video surveillance has already been used for racist purposes, notably by China, in the exclusive surveillance of the Uighurs, a Muslim minority present in the country,” says Touati. “Because ethnic minorities are under-represented in the data provided to the algorithms for learning-purposes, there are significant discriminatory and racist biases. According to an MIT study, while the facial recognition error is 1% for White men, it is 34% for Black women.” 

Touati, however, wants to see the glass as half full. “Using AI video surveillance during events of this magnitude could also highlight the algorithm’s discriminatory, misogynistic and racist biases by identifying, at too high a frequency to be accurate, people from minority ethnic groups as potential suspects,” he explains. 

When asked by members of the left-wing opposition coalition NUPES what kind of people AI video surveillance would be targeting, the French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said, “Not [ones wearing] hoodies.”  The French government believes that the limits set by the law – the absence of facial recognition, data protection – will be enough to prevent discriminatory practices.  

“We have put safeguards in place so that tenders are only reserved for companies that respect a certain number of rules, including hosting data on national territory, respecting the CNIL [National Commission on Informatics and Liberty; an independent French administrative regulatory body responsible for ensuring that data privacy law is applied to the collection, storage and use of personal data] and the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation ; a data protection law introduced by the EU],” says MP Philippe Latombe, a member of the pro-Europe and centre-right political party Democratic Movement. He co-signed an amendment with the National Rally so that the call for tenders would give priority to European companies. “Clearly, we don’t want it to be a Chinese company that does data processing in China and uses the data to do something else.” 

“We are not reassured by the government’s guarantees. In reality, no real amendment is possible, and this technology is, in itself, problematic and dangerous for human rights,” says Roux. “It will remain so until a serious evaluation has been conducted, the necessity and proportionality of its use has been demonstrated, and a real debate has been held with civil society’s different actors on this issue.” 

Sports events and tech experiments

Although the Olympic Games are clearly the target event, this technological experiment can begin as soon as the law is implemented and will end on December 31, 2024, four months after the Paralympic Games finish. It could therefore be applied to a wide range of events, starting with the Rugby World Cup from September 8 to October 28.  

Opponents of AI video surveillance fear that its initially exceptional use will eventually become commonplace. After all, sports events are often used as a testing ground for policing, security and new technology. The 2012 London Olympics, for example, led to the widespread use of video surveillance in the British capital. 

“We are afraid that this exceptional period will become the norm,” explains Roux, who adds that voice recognition technology, which was deployed on an experimental basis during the 2018 World Cup in Russia, has since been used to repress the opposition.  

Finally, Amnesty International is concerned that video surveillance will eventually lead to biometric or voice surveillance. “Facial recognition is just a feature waiting to be activated,” says Roux. 

The law on the 2024 Olympic Games has not yet completed its legislative journey. Following Tuesday’s formal vote in the National Assembly, the text will undergo several changes and make multiple trips between the Assembly and Senate, which had previously amended it, until the two chambers agree to adopt it.  

Tech 24’s Peter O’Brien contributed to this article. 

This article has been translated from the original in French

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Macron kicks off Olympic countdown 500 days before Paris Games

French President Emmanuel Macron launched the countdown to the 2024 Paris Olympics on Tuesday, taking stock of preparations for the mammoth event as officials race to get the city’s transport network into shape and stage an opening ceremony unlike any other.  

Macron, who has promised an “unforgettable” curtain-raiser, hosted the Olympics’ organisers and business partners at the Élysée Palace to discuss preparations for the world’s biggest sporting event. He addressed several hundred civil servants involved in the effort in a speech at Paris police headquarters, on the banks of the River Seine, later Tuesday. 

On the eve of his visit, Macron teased the event by tweeting the cover of Time Magazine’s latest issue, headlined on the race to clean up “the world’s most romantic river”. 

“With 500 days to go, we are within reach of achieving one of the greatest legacies of the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris,” the French president wrote, referencing a hugely ambitious 1.4-billion-euro plan to clean up the heavily polluted waterway in time for the Games. 


Making the Seine fit for swimming is an old Parisian dream. In 1988, former French president Jacques Chirac, then the city’s mayor, famously promised to make the river swimmable “in three years” – a pledge he never delivered on. 

The dream has become a necessity now that Paris has pledged to stage several Olympics events, including the 10 kilometre swimming marathon, in the Seine – as it did back in 1900, when it first hosted the Games. 

The prospect of athletes swimming down the world-famous river, alongside Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower, was a major asset for the French capital’s bid to host the “biggest show on earth”. 


 

Olympia-sur-Seine 

The city’s famed waterway is the focus of another mammoth challenge for organisers of the 33rd Summer Olympiad, one that is bound to give French officials many a sleepless night over the coming 500 days. 

In perhaps the biggest gamble of Paris 2024, organisers plan to take the opening ceremony out of its traditional stadium setting and stage it on water. 

The vision, outlined by Macron, is for sporting delegations to sail down the Seine in an armada of boats, in view of up to 600,000 spectators lining the river’s banks over a six-kilometre stretch.  

The appeal of projecting such a bold statement of French ambition before a global TV audience of hundreds of millions is clear. Turning it into reality is said to be giving planners cold sweats. 

As the Games loom into view, the number of boats, the arrangements for spectators, crowd control and security measures are still the subject of intense discussions. A first practice run is expected in July this year, with 30 to 40 boats set to participate.   

“Everyone is working flat-out on preparations,” one senior French official involved in the process told AFP on condition of anonymity. “A ceremony like this has never taken place before. But we’ll manage it, we’ll be ready.” 

FRANCE IN FOCUS
FRANCE IN FOCUS © FRANCE 24

 

Some security experts have voiced concerns, however, warning about the dangers of uncontrolled crowd movements close to the water, and the challenges of securing such a long stretch of water with overlooking buildings. 

Sceptics point to the chaotic scenes at last year’s Champions League final in Paris, when Liverpool fans found themselves in a crush outside the stadium, as a reminder of the dangers of badly organised sporting events.  

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who faced severe criticism for his handling of the Champions League fiasco, travelled to the World Cup in Qatar in November last year on a fact-finding mission. While there, he warned of the dangers of “a drone loaded with explosives that falls on a crowd, on an exposed team, on an opening ceremony like at the Olympic Games, for example”.

Transport woes 

For the opening ceremony, Darmanin is counting on 35,000 members of the security forces being on duty, with police already warned that requests for leave over the summer holiday period will not be permitted. 

The interior ministry has also suggested 25,000 private security agents should be used for less critical missions, with thousands currently being screened, recruited and trained. However, the low bids being offered by the organising committee mean many private security companies are struggling to recruit staff, another source close to the event told AFP. 

On Tuesday, Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra said there would be “no taboo” on drafting in the army if necessary, as was the case at the 2012 Olympics in London. 

In another recruitment headache, the Paris region’s transport system is scrambling to bounce back from a year of chronic staff shortages and sporadic strikes – one of which precipitated the chaos of the Champions League final. 

Like the football final, much of the Olympics will take place in the Seine-Saint-Denis département northeast of Paris, the poorest in metropolitan France and the most densely populated after Paris, known for its creaking transport infrastructure. 

There are serious questions about whether the extension of a key metro line to the Athletes’ Village will be completed in time for the Games and a major shortfall in the number of bus drivers is causing concerns too. 

“We will do everything we can to be ready in time,” Macron’s former prime minister Jean Castex, now in charge of the RATP transport operator, told reporters last week, promising a massive recruitment drive.


 

Adding to organisers’ woes, plans to break up the RATP’s monopoly on bus services soon after the Olympics threaten to throw a spanner in the works, with trade unions fiercely opposed to the move and the threat of industrial action hanging over the Games. 

Mindful of the tight schedule, Valérie Pécresse, the conservative head of the Paris region, has leveraged the Olympics to secure an additional 200-million-euro budget from the central government, threatening to delay the opening of new transport lines that fall under her remit. 

In the best-case scenario, transport will already be well short of what organisers promised when they submitted their final bid seven years ago. A future metro line that promised to link Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport with the Athletes’ Village in “under 30 minutes” will not be ready in time for the Games; nor will the long-delayed CDG Express train linking the airport with the heart of Paris. 

(With AFP)



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