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Nice throws off security fears to revel in carnival spirit

VALERY HACHE / AFP | A French soldier stands guard on February 10, 2017 in Nice, southeastern France, before the start of the 133rd edition of the Nice Carnival.

Carnival revellers in the city of Nice, France, will celebrate under high security this year, for the first time in living memory parading down a route other than the traditional Promenade des Anglais.

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One of the most popular carnivals in the world, renowned for attracting up to a million partygoers, the Nice Carnival will this year take place along a new route, the Promenade du Paillon, as the city attempts to cast off the pall of terrorism that struck on Bastille Day last year.

The change of route is in response to stringent security measures which have been implemented since the jihadist attack which killed 86 people here on July 14, 2016.

"Never has the level of security been so high for an event of this kind in Nice," top regional administrator Georges-Francois Leclerc told a news conference ahead of the February 11-25 carnival.

Some 200 police will man 36 entry points to the venue, which will be totally enclosed for the event.

Political messages

Many of the floats are expected to brandish political messages, with US president Donald Trump a hot favourite for satirists this year. A giant bust of the president was spotted during preparations for the parade.

The carnival procession will comprise some 17 floats, with more than 1000 international musicians and dancers partaking in the celebrations.

The frenzied "battle of the flowers"   when revellers vie to catch blooms thrown from elaborate flower-bedecked floats   will take place in the Place Massena, the city's main square.

Tourism on rebound

All the colour and spectacle of the event translates into big tourist dollars: last year the 15-day event drew 240,000 paying visitors out of a total of 600,000 revellers.

France’s tourism industry took a hit after the 2016 Nice attack, which followed on the heels of two major terror attacks in Paris in 2015: the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher attacks in which 17 people died, in January, and the November 13 attacks, which killed 130 people.

Carnival organisers hoping for a large turnout will no doubt be heartened by the latest tourism figures. Last week France’s national statistics agency, INSEE, reported that the number of overnight stays in France rose 3.9 percent in the last three months of 2016.

Bastille Day memorial dismantled

Notwithstanding security and unpredictable tourist numbers, one of the biggest challenges for organisers has been striking a respectful balance between honouring the memory of the victims of the Bastille Day attack whilst restoring Nice’s battered reputation as a festive city.

Until yesterday, the bandstand at the city’s Promenade des Anglais was still covered in thousands of mementoes of the attack's victims, including photos, flowers, poems and toys that turned a stretch of the promenade into a seaside memorial.

Authorities and volunteers, including relatives of the victims, began dismantling the memorial ahead of this year’s carnival, angering some in the community and threatening to overshadow the city’s celebratory atmosphere.

Annie Piveteau, a volunteer and resident of Nice, said that she saw no other option than to join in the removal effort.

"Being from Nice, being in solidarity with my town, and having two cousins who survived the tragedy, I just had to be there to preserve everything that was placed," Piveteau said.

While some of the objects will be preserved, others will be placed online to create a permanent historical record.

Both the Socialist government and Nice’s right-wing city authorities have come under fire for perceived security lapses. But despite the criticism the right-wing president of the Riviera region, Christian Estrosi, told a news conference on Friday that cancelling the carnival would be "unthinkable".

"That would be a sign to the barbarians, to the terrorists, that they would have scored another victory," Estrosi said at the news conference.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
 

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