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POLITICS

French military bans Russians from chateau over Ukraine war

The French military has banned Russian nationals from visiting the Chateau de Vincennes, a medieval fortress, tourist attraction and military site on the edge of Paris, due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, officials told AFP.

French military bans Russians from chateau over Ukraine war
Château de Vincennes on the outskirts of Paris. Photo by MARTIN BUREAU / AFP

Once the residence of French kings and among Europe’s best-preserved monuments of its kind, the castle is for the most part open to the public, including for tours, concerts, theatre plays and other events.

But although best-known as a tourist attraction it is also technically a military site, housing part of the French armed forces’ historical archives, to which access is restricted.

The mounted Garde republicaine – a division of the French military – are also partially based at the chateaux.

It is therefore covered by a French ban on Russian nationals entering army territory that was issued after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Each year some 150,000 people visit the chateau, paying €9.50 per adult admission.

But on July 28th, two Russian women were refused access.

“A guard at the metal detector asked to see my passport,” said one of the women, 31, who works as a journalist and has been in France for five months, having left Russia “because of the war”.

On inspecting the document, the guard informed her she couldn’t pass, the woman, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

Another guard also denied her entry and gave as the reason “because you are Russian”, she said, adding she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

Contacted by AFP, the defence ministry confirmed late Monday that it had, indeed, “restricted access to military installations to Russian nationals” because of the invasion.

But after media coverage and social media comment, the ministry contacted AFP on Tuesday to say that the guards had in fact “indiscriminately applied a rule established in February concerning all military installations”.

“This rule cannot be applied in the same way for strategic sites and for sites accessible to the public, such as museums,” a spokesman said.

The ministry said security staff would now be informed of the distinction “to avoid any further incidents of this kind”.

Russian journalists could, however, apply for an exemption, a ministry official added.

The majority of France’s most popular tourist sites have no military function and would not be affected by the ban. 

Since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine in February, France has taken in some 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, government figures show.

About 73,500 Russian immigrants lived in France in 2021, according to the national statistics office Insee.

There has been debate within the European Union about whether further limits should be placed on Russians visiting the bloc for tourism or personal reasons.

Russia’s neighbour Finland last week issued a plan to limit tourist visas  for Russians but also emphasised the need for an EU-level decision on the matter.

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POLITICS

Beautiful game sparks ugly row at French parliament

Sport and charity work are among few subjects warring politicians unite around, but not so in the new French parliament where a dispute has erupted over whether far-right MPs can play in the assembly's football team.

Beautiful game sparks ugly row at French parliament

Left-wing parties and the governing Renaissance group of President Emmanuel Macron announced Tuesday they would boycott a charity game if the far-right National Rally (RN) joins the parliament side.

Even though the RN has historically high representation with 89 seats in the assembly, “that doesn’t mean that we should help them in their desire to normalise themselves,” government spokesman Olivier Veran told CNews television.

Senior Renaissance MP Aurore Berge fretted about the team photo, telling fellow centrist lawmakers: “We are not in the same team. Neither far-right, nor far-left.”

The row underlines a decades-long dilemma for mainstream French politicians over how to deal with the far-right parties of Jean Marie Le Pen and his daughter Marine Le Pen since their emergence in the 1970s.

Some have tried to boycott them entirely, including former president Jacques Chirac, who refused to debate Jean-Marie in 2002 when they faced off in the final round of the presidential election.

She scored 41.4 percent in the second round of April’s presidential election and the party increased its number of seats 10-fold in June’s parliamentary vote.

“It says a lot about these people in reality,” Le Pen told RTL radio on Wednesday about the football row. “It’s hatred all the time,  everywhere, non-stop fighting.”

Veran, an enthusiastic player in previous parliament charity matches, acknowledged his own misgivings about the boycott.

“In saying that I won’t go to play, I am taking part in a phenomenon that serves to reinforce the notion that they (the far-right) are ostracised, that they are victims of the system,” he said.

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