Heavy security around Stade de France 3 months after attacks
PARIS (AP) Despite a marked increase in security checks, there was a calm and relaxed atmosphere outside Stade de France as fans arrived for the Six Nations rugby match between France and Italy on Saturday.
It was the first event held at the national stadium since the deadly attacks that struck Paris of Nov. 13, when 130 people died and hundreds more were injured.
That night, three suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the stadium as France took on Germany in a football match. It was the first brutal act of bloodshed around the capital that put France is under a state of emergency in the wake of Islamic extremist attacks.
With tens of thousands of fans using public transport to reach the Stade de France, eagle-eyed Paris police also increased security checks on overland and underground trains, and also on cars - warning that any cars illegally parked around the stadium would be immediately impounded.
''I can't remember a tournament match with so much security,'' Robert Broussard, the head of security for the French Rugby Federation, told sports daily L'Equipe on Saturday. ''This match is taking place in a very particular context.''
Side streets were blocked and arriving fans underwent two safety checks upon arrival.
A first perimeter was set up 50 meters from the stadium where fans had bags checked and people were lightly patted down as police armed with rifles stood nearby.
Once at the entry gates, a more thorough palpation check was done and metal detectors were also used.
Still, on a mild winter's afternoon, fans were in good spirits as they arrived for the match, many lining up to drink beers and eat burgers outside the cafes and food stalls linking the stadium in northern Paris.
''You can't start getting paranoid, you just have to block all of it out,'' said Frenchman Richard Bertholet, a 41-year-old documentary-maker who was wearing a brown leather jacket, told The Associated Press outside the stadium.
''I'm from Paris; I'm used to it now. I moved here 20 years ago after the attacks back then at Saint-Michel (train station in 1995),'' Bertholet added. ''You can't keep thinking about everything that's happened.''
On Avenue Jules-Rimet, outside the fast-food chain Quick and the Events cafe- where one of the suicide bombers blew himself up that night - fans mingled and drank as usual.
Fans were encouraged to arrive two hours before the game to prevent congestion and without big items such as backpacks or motorbike helmets that will be put on hold.
French President Francois Hollande, who was quickly evacuated from the stadium when the explosions went off during the first half of the France-Germany game, was once again in attendance.
The 80,000-capacity stadium was not quite full, but the fans gave a loud rendition of the French national anthem - La Marseillaise - as they waved Tricolor flags.