PARIS Under tight security and in the presence of French President Francois Hollande, the Stade de France opened its gates on Saturday for the first time since the stadium was targeted in the deadly attacks which struck Paris in November.
Around 64,000 rugby fans gathered to watch the Six Nations match between France and Italy at the country's biggest sports venue, situated in the Parisien suburb of Saint-Denis.
Hollande had been rushed out of the stadium during an international soccer match on the evening of Nov. 13 last year, when coordinated attacks claimed by Islamic State on bars, restaurants and a concert hall killed 130 in the French capital.
That night, three suicide bombers also blew themselves up outside the stadium where the game between France and Germany was being played.
"I wanted to come back for the first event since these terrible attacks because life must go on, we must not give anything up, and at the same time we must be even more rigorous in terms of security," Hollande told France 2 television at half-time.
Ahead of Saturday's match, side accesses to the stadium, located to the north of the city, were blocked and all spectators were searched twice before entering the premises as dozens of riot police vans were parked outside.
"I feel safe because we've been searched several times, it's a good thing. Life goes on, there's a good atmosphere," Salvatore Signorelli, an Italian national who lives in France, told Reuters. Frederic Boeuf, 50, said: "It's important that you can go to a stadium safely. Sometimes you go to a stadium, to an event where everyone goes through without being searched. At least here you can come with your family." "We're not used to seeing so many riot police vans ahead of rugby games but it’s reassuring," said Gerard Risacher, president of the French rugby fans associations.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot, Lucien Libert and Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Toby Chopra)