King Salman of Saudi Arabia is expected to arrive in France later Friday for a Riviera beach holiday, bringing an entourage of no fewer than 1,000 with him.
While the king's three-week visit is a boon for the local economy, it has also sparked anger due to the closure of a public beach for the privacy and security of the royal party.
The king's inner circle will be put up at the family's private villa, which stretches across a kilometre of Riviera coastline between Antibes and Marseille. The luxury mansion in Vallauris, which is right next to the picturesque Mirandole beach, is only accessible by a tunnel that runs beneath the famous coastal railway line.
Some 700 other members of his 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 the beach resorts of southern France 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," said Chevillon.
Friction with the locals
But not everyone is happy. An entire kilometre of public beach will be cordoned off for security and privacy reasons and coastguards will stop anyone coming within 300 metres of the villa by sea.
The Saudis also generated a great deal of anger by starting work on an elevator from the beach to the villa, which involved pouring a huge slab of cement directly on to the sand.
A petition against the "privatisation" of the public beach gathered more than 50,000 signatures in eight days.
"We recall that this natural zone, like all maritime public estates, is an intrinsic public property that should be available for the benefit of all, residents, tourists, French, foreigners or people passing through," said the petition.
"We ask the state to guarantee the fundamental principle of the equality of all citizens before the law," the text added.
"We're sick and tired of this messing around," a local woman told AFP.
"I can see it's normal that you need to guarantee their security but they should let us go for a swim."
France and Saudi Arabia are currently working on deals worth $12 billion (€10.7 billion), in the latest sign of growing commercial ties between Paris and the Middle East kingdom.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2015-07-24