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50,000 say 'non' to Saudi royals taking over beach

Oliver Gee · 24 Jul 2015, 14:11

Published: 24 Jul 2015 13:46 GMT+02:00
Updated: 24 Jul 2015 14:11 GMT+02:00

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Tensions have been high in the French Riviera ever since it emerged that a Saudi king has been allowed to commandeer a public beach all for himself.

King Salman is expected to arrive in the Riviera on Saturday, where he and his family will stay at his plush villa which stands just metres from the Mirandole beach in Vallauris.

Local beachgoers from nearby Cannes and Antibes, however, have been protesting against the fact they will be barred from the beach for the entire duration of the family’s stay.

Saudi royals further inflamed relations with local hosts when they were given the green light to build an elevator down to the sand to make it easier for them to access the beach from their villa.

A regional councilor took the matter a step further and launched a petition against the privatization of the beach, gaining over 50,000 signatures of support, reported the BFM TV channel. 

The online petition reads: "This beach, like any other public maritime domain, should be available for everyone, including residents, tourists, French people and foreigners. 

It called on France to "recognize the unanimous wave of indignation" and to rectify the situation by reversing the decision to privatize the beach. 
The petition comes as part of an open letter to France's President Francois Hollande, as well as the interior, foreign affairs, and ecology ministers, penned by opposition councilor Jean-Noel Falcou. 
Francois-Xavier Lauch, director of the office of the Alpes-Maritimes prefecture, told The Local that the closing of the beach was simply a question of security.

“This move is consistent with the visit of a head of state and it would be the same if it was President Hollande visiting or Barack Obama,” he said earlier this week. 

“Measures of security need to be taken for the visit and one of them is to block off access to the beach.”

“It’s only ten metres long. It’s not one of the most prominent beaches of the Riviera and is only visited by about 20 people a day. When you take this into account then closing the beach is a proportional measure.”

Authorities say the king’s villa is so close to the beach that no risks can be taken.

“The beach is almost in the middle of the residence. Cutting off access to the beach is just like cutting off access to an underground car park situated under a meeting room where heads of state would meet,” Lauch said.

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“We understand that people will regret that the beach is closed during the visit by a head of state, but we are acting within French law and this is the best option."

He said the prefecture had total confidence that all trace of the elevator that has been installed on the beach would be removed once the royal family’s Riviera sojourn was over.

While some complain about the public being denied access to the beach, Lauch said the royal visit would be extremely beneficial to the local economy.

Indeed, some 700 other members of the king's entourage will be accommodated at top hotels on the promenade in Cannes.

Hundreds of other Saudis will be following the king on his holiday -- as is the tradition -- bringing the total number of Saudi citizens flooding into the southern French beach resorts to around 1,000.
"Clearly this is good news," said Michel Chevillon, president of an association representing hotel managers in Cannes.
"These are people with great purchasing power which will pep up not only the luxury hotel industry but also the retail and tourism sectors of the town," he told the AFP news agency.
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