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Fireworks cancelled, police reinforcements: Bastille Day under tight surveillance in France

Fireworks over the Baie des Anges, Nice, 13/07/2023
Fireworks over the Baie des Anges, Nice, 13/07/2023 Copyright VALERY HACHE/AFP or licensors
Copyright VALERY HACHE/AFP or licensors
By Anne Devineaux
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This article was originally published in French

Should the festivities and fireworks for France's Bastille Day be cancelled or not? A dilemma for some mayors faced with the risk of urban violence and the threat of fires.

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Two weeks after the riots that shook France, some mayors have decided to forego the traditional balls and fireworks displays associated with the 14 July festivities.

Montargis, a town of 15,000 inhabitants in the central Val de Loire region, was one of the worst affected by the violence that followed the death of 17-year-old Nahel, who was killed by a police officer at the end of June.

Its mayor is one of several across the country who decided to put the national holiday celebrations on hold this year.

"The stigmata is still too fresh in people's minds and on the walls to think about celebrating," said Benoît Digeon.

"We had two buildings destroyed, 80 shopkeepers badly affected, windows smashed, shops looted, and an appalling scene of rioting," he said.

Instead of celebrations planned for the evening of 13 July, he said there would be a ceremony to "pay tribute to the firefighters and police officers" who were on the front line during the riots. The fireworks display has been postponed until Christmas.

Exceptional security arrangements

Bures-sur-Yvette, near Paris, did not suffer the same damage. The town's mayor decided to go ahead with the celebrations under in increased security. 

"It seemed to us that calm had returned sufficiently for us to be able to organise it under proper conditions," said Mayor Jean-François Vigier.

Across the country, the government has deployed an exceptional security force for the period. Some 45,000 police and gendarmes, elite units, and armoured vehicles have been mobilized from Thursday evening until Saturday morning.

Fireworks cancelled due to drought

In addition to the urban violence, the issue of drought also played a role in the decision by some mayors to call off festivities. Some municipalities, such as Strasbourg, Nîmes, and Perpignan, decided to cancel their traditional fireworks displays.

"The authorities wanted to make sure that fireworks displays did not take place near green areas that were likely to catch fire", said Jean-François Vigier, a board member of the Association des Maires de France.

Despite this, there will still be fireworks displays across the country.

"There has to be a very valid reason for not holding this highly symbolic event. It's the very foundation of the French Republic," he said.

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