G8 security net blankets Normandy resort

26th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

The elegant seafront boardwalk was empty apart from scattered knots of police, and a chill wind blew in off the Channel as a vast security net was thrown over the G8 summit in Deauville.

Slate grey skies loomed over the resort, ending a long period of balmy spring sunshine, as a 12,500 strong cordon of police and gendarmes, backed by patrol boats and helicopters, sealed off this entire Normandy town.

Even local residents wore security badges to stroll along the leafy streets, past comfortable brick-built second homes and designer stores. Only the horses exercising on the green grass of the famous racetrack escaped the tags.

The heads of the world's major developed economies were due in town later in the day, and their delegations had already taken charge of the hotels in "Zone 1", an inner security bubble by the waterfront conference hall.

"The G8 has brought us nothing," complained Emmanueal Benamara, 48-year-old landlord of La Taverne, a beachfront watering hole and guesthouse. "They've block-booked 15 rooms, luckily, but restaurant takings are down 60 percent."

"People can't get here, everything is blocked. My chef drove in this morning from Lisieux and was stopped six times. I know they have to be careful, but it seems a bit over-the-top to stop people every 200 metres.

"I have quite a few shopkeeper friends who just say they're shutting down for Thursday and Friday. It's always the same. The grand hotels and the casino do well, but there's nothing for us little guys."

Rene, a smartly-dressed 73-year-old retiree shrugged his shoulders under his Panama as he walked his dog nearby, philosophical about the inconvenience despite being barred from the town's famous wooden promenade.

"It doesn't bother me, it's very well organised," he said. "The town is a bit quieter than usual, but in any case the Parisians only come by at the weekend at this stage of the season."

Deauville is still a favoured coastal retreat for a traditionalist section of the Parisian bourgeoisie, but President Nicolas Sarkozy and his supermodel wife Carla Bruni have brought a more starry list of guests than usual.

The first couple were to entertain eight of the world's most powerful leaders and their spouses at Le Ciro's Barriere, the landmark waterfront seafood restaurant overlooking the pale white sands.

A travelling press corps, several hundred strong, has been given a filing centre on the lawns of the Hippodrome de Deauville-La Touques, the racetrack that opened in 1864 and was the original basis of the town's wealth.

There were barriers in parts of the town, but compared to the walls of steel that have sometimes been thrown up arounds previous such meetings, much of the security set-up was relatively invisible.

Mobile and fixed police patrols were omnipresent, checking badges and directing traffic, but the French's army's "Harfang" drone flew silently overhead, and arrays of ground to air missiles were hidden in the woods.

"I can park even easier than usual," joked 32-year-old Caroline, one of the "Zone 1" residents wearing their specially issued white plastic badges.

Further back, in the less secure Zone 2 outer cordon area, 55-year-old Jean-Pierre was astonished: "I've never seen so many police in my life."

Sarkozy had promised the Deauville summit would be more low-key and less expensive than the jamboree that descended last year on Toronto, where police battled anarchist thugs for two days in the streets of the city.

But he is hosting the first such gathering since Al-Qaeda vowed revenge for the death of its figurehead Osama bin Laden and France and taking no chances.

For their part, the travelling circus of anti-globalism protesters that had dogged G20 and G8 summits in recent years in London, Toronto and Pittsburgh was nowhere to be seen -- preferring to hold smaller scale demos in Paris.

© 2011 AFP

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