Olympics-French police to be on high alert for torch relay

By Julien Pretot

PARIS (Reuters) – French police will be on high alert for threats along the route of the 2024 Olympic torch relay, the interior minister said on Monday, with torchbearers protected by about 100 officers in a security bubble and anti-drone measures in place.

The Olympic flame will arrive in Marseille from Greece on May 8, with up to 150,000 people expected to attend the ceremony in the southern city’s Old Port before the French leg of the relay begins.

Speaking at a press conference, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the “terrorist and protest threat” to the relay was significant, citing “far left environmental activists” or “radical Islamists” as potential sources of such threats.

“The relay of the torch is subject to a lot of media attention and the ministry is giving it a special attention as it could be the target of malicious acts,” he said.

“We did a background check on all 11,000 torchbearers and the 1,000 replacements, and it led to 13 being left out of the relay.”

The flame will be lit on April 16 in a ceremony at Greece’s ancient Olympia, birthplace of the Games.

An actress playing a high priestess lights the torch for every Games – summer or winter – using a parabolic mirror before passing the flame to the first torchbearer at the edge of the ancient Olympic stadium.

The torch will remain in Greece for about a week for a short relay before being handed over to host city Paris and its departure for France.

Paris organisers have said they will use a three-masted ship, the “Belem”, to take it to the port city of Marseille, where the Olympic sailing competitions will also take place.

Some 18,000 police officers will be on duty in Paris when the torch goes through the city on July 14 and 15, and on July 26, when the opening ceremony takes place.

About 5,000 police will be on the ground in Marseille when the torch arrives.

The interior ministry has been at odds with police officers, who have been asking for a 2,000-euro Olympic bonus and better working conditions.

Darmanin said the discussions with police unions were “ongoing”, confirming the ministry was offering a bonus of 1,000 to 1,500 euros.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Alex Richardson)