August 23, 2019 / 1:43 PM / 3 months ago

As G7 leaders arrive, barricaded Biarritz leaves swimmers out in the cold

BIARRITZ, France (Reuters) - Come rain or shine, every morning of the year Biarritz’s White Urchin swimmers’ club take a one kilometre swim around the Bay of Biscay. But today as they crawl to their favourite spot, the wail of a police speedboat sends a clear message: stay away.

Lifeguards watch swimmers at the beach ahead of the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, August 23, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

The scene comes less than 24 hours before world leaders, including U.S. President Donald Trump, arrive for a G7 summit in France’s southwest surfing capital to navigate their differences on issues ranging from climate change to Iran and tariffs.

“The police came towards us with their sirens. It was like a cinema sketch,” said Valerie Rey-Lopez, a retiree, who is used to taking to the sea every day.

“I find the G7 an aberration. It’s going to cost us loads. They could do it at the United Nations, which has the security to handle world leaders rather than in a town like this. It’s the taxpayer who will pay.”

Some 13,000 police have been drafted into the elegant seaside town - almost one for every two inhabitants - to secure it and prevent any violent anti-globalisation demonstrations that are now anticipated on the nearby Franco-Spanish border.

Authorities estimate the cost at about 36 million euros($40 million).

Biarritz is known for its majestic Hotel du Palais, built in the 19th century as a summer villa for the Empress Eugenie, its art deco casinos and more recently a vibrant surfing culture.

Streets usually filled with holiday-makers hoping to try their luck on the roulette wheels or surfers seeking to ride the Atlantic waves are now patrolled by police with assault rifles, while helicopters zoom overhead and frigates patrol the coast.

For shopkeepers and restaurant owners, who make up the bulk of their earnings between June and September, the G7’ s four days are a killer.

One bag seller estimated his losses at 20,000 euros. Willy Lopes, 50, the owner of Ventilo Caffe in Biarritz’s old town, said business had dropped 60% to 70% and he was considering closing up to cut his losses before the leaders arrive.

“Everybody wanted this to happen at a different time. We need this period to get through winter,” he said.

LEAVING TOWN

Most tourists have already left for seaside resorts further north or south towards Spain.

“It’s annoying because we can’t go to the beach just opposite where we were staying,” said Pascal, 56, from France’s Alsace region. He opted to leave a day early to go up the coast.

In the Rue Mazagran, where pedestrians should be ambling from shop to shop, there is an eerie calm.

“Usually, there are a couple of thousand people every hour. Today, there’s nobody,” Issop Farouk, 59, who runs a shoe and clothing store. “You can never recover your losses.”

But not everyone is upset. David, a 37-year-old surfer from Paris, brushed aside the fact two of the main surfing beaches are closed.

A surfer looks at French gendarmes on a boat as they patrol the coast ahead of the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, August 23, 2019. RREUTERS/Christian Hartmann

“The surf is good elsewhere, so I’ll just try something else.”

And some residents see the upheaval of the G7 as a chance to see their town in a better light.

“It’s a bit of a holiday for us. We thought we’d escape Biarritz during the three days, but actually it’s quite cool having nobody here and to see Biarritz in a different light,” said 39-year-old local Lucas Denjean, who works in a communications agency.

Additional reporting by Lucien Libert, Noemie Olive and Marina Depetris; Editing by Ros Russell

0 : 0
  • narrow-browser-and-phone
  • medium-browser-and-portrait-tablet
  • landscape-tablet
  • medium-wide-browser
  • wide-browser-and-larger
  • medium-browser-and-landscape-tablet
  • medium-wide-browser-and-larger
  • above-phone
  • portrait-tablet-and-above
  • above-portrait-tablet
  • landscape-tablet-and-above
  • landscape-tablet-and-medium-wide-browser
  • portrait-tablet-and-below
  • landscape-tablet-and-below