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Paris 2024: Security tightened as Marseille prepares to welcome the Olympic torch
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Paris 2024: Security tightened as Marseille prepares to welcome the Olympic torch

MARSEILLE, France (AP) — Huge crowds gathered Wednesday in the southern French city of Marseille, where a majestic three-masted ship carrying the Olympic torch arrived from Greece prior to a sunset welcome ceremony.

Paris Games Organizers have promised ‘fantastic’ celebrations in the city, where the Old Port has been placed under tight security.

The torch was illuminated in Greece last month before it was official transferred to France. It left Athens aboard a ship called Belem, first used in 1896, and spent twelve days at sea.

President Emmanuel Macron met with the French Olympic athletes who sailed to Belem with the Olympic torch upon his arrival in Marseille.

“With the arrival of the flame, the country is participating in the Games,” Macron said at the city’s Olympic Marina.

More than a thousand boats will accompany Belem’s parade around the Bay of Marseille. The ship will moor on a pontoon that resembles an athletics track in the Old Port.

The sunset welcome ceremony on Wednesday will include a demonstration by the jets of the Patrouille de France, the French air force’s aerobatic team.

“The return of the Games to our country will be a fantastic celebration,” said Tony Estanguet, president of the Paris Olympic Games Organizing Committee.

AP correspondent Charles de Ledesma reports that the French port city of Marseille will host the arrival of the Olympic torch.

“As a former athlete, I know how important the start of a competition is. That is why we chose Marseille, because it is definitely one of the cities that loves sports the most,” said Estanguet, a former Olympic canoeist with gold medals at the 2000, 2004 and 2012 Games.

The safety of visitors and residents is a top priority for authorities in Marseille, France’s second-largest city with almost a million inhabitants. About 8,000 police officers were deployed to the port, where 50,000 people gathered in the afternoon, according to city hall officials. Tens of thousands more people were expected to attend the evening festivities, which included a French Air Force flyover.

Thousands of firefighters and bomb squads have been deployed across the city, along with maritime police and anti-drone teams patrolling the city’s waters and airspace.

“It is a monumental day and we have worked hard to ensure that visitors and residents of Marseille enjoy this historic moment,” said Yannick Ohanessian, the city’s deputy mayor.

The torch relay starts in Marseille on Thursday, before heading to Paris via iconic sites across the country, from the world-famous Mont Saint-Michel to the D-Day beaches in Normandy and the Palace of Versailles.

Many people and families strolled along the Mediterranean promenade, beaming with excitement and curiosity. A group of musicians, wearing T-shirts with the slogan ‘Marseille, proud to welcome the Olympic Flame’, entertained tourists, residents and workers who were setting up the Olympic stage and the pontoon bridge over which the Olympic flame is expected to come. be transported from the boat to mainland France.

“I wanted to see how it goes and maybe come back later with the children, when it is not too busy, to see the flame coming,” said Paul Vuarambon, a resident of Marseille, as he walked along the old port with his son. Despite tight security and the overhaul of the entire city for Wednesday’s ceremony, Vaurambon said, “People here are quite happy about the Olympics.”

French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera emphasized the symbolic and practical importance of the event after years of preparations for the Paris Games.

“We really want to make sure that the start of the torch relay here will create enthusiasm and a sense of pride among the French. That will give us a great moment of celebration and joy,” Oudea-Castera said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“Sport can evoke these kinds of emotions and Olympism is much more than sport,” she added. “It conveys a message to the world and the torch relay is a symbol of peace.”

Olympic swimmer Florent Manaudou has been chosen to be the first bearer of the flame in France. Manaudou, who won four Olympic medals, is the brother of swimmer Laure Manaudou, who won three Olympic medals in Athens in 2004.

“We are extremely proud,” said Marseille Mayor Benoît Payan. “This is where it all starts.”

The show will “dazzle the world,” Payan said, adding that up to 150,000 spectators are expected at the Old Port.

The people of Marseille “have a sense of celebration, a sense of the game, of sport and of Olympism in their guts,” he said, recalling that the city was founded by Greek colonists some 2,600 years ago.

A heavy police and military presence was seen in Marseille city center on Tuesday, as a military helicopter flew over the old port, where a series of barriers have been erected.

French Interior Ministry spokesperson Camille Chaize said officials were prepared for security threats, including terrorism.

“We are using several measures, in particular the elite unit of the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group, which will be present at the torch relay from start to finish,” she said.

The Olympic cauldron will be lit after the opening ceremony of the Games that will take place on the River Seine on July 26.

The cauldron is lit at a location in Paris that is kept top secret until the day itself. Reported options include iconic sites such as the Eiffel Tower and the Tuileries Gardens outside the Louvre.

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Barbara Surk contributed from Nice, France. AP journalists Jeffrey Schaeffer, Oleg Cetinic, Nicolas Garriga and Daniel Cole contributed to this story.

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Olympic Games AP https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games