Paris brings in ban on begging to 'protect' shoppers during festive season
It is renowned as a city of romance and style, where lights twinkle on the grand hill of Montmartre, pleasure boats cruise down the Seine, high art keeps its counsel in the Louvre -- and the Eiffel Tower surveys the whole scene with a certain green loftiness.
A farewell to alms: The Champs Elys �es is one of three popular tourist and shopping areas in Paris decreed as no-go zones for beggars. File pic/getty images
And -- even more so at this time of year -- Paris is a city for shoppers, its grand main boulevard the Champs Elysees alive with major stores and fashion houses, the rather narrower streets of the Marais district abuzz with boutiques and independent outlets.
Clampdown But the seasonal retail blitz will be a little different in the French capital this year -- as authorities have put in place controversial measures to ban begging.
In a move that is reportedly designed to 'protect' tourists and other shoppers from being approached on the street while hitting the stores, begging exclusion zones have been set up in three of Paris's busiest -- and most visitor-friendly -- locations.
A begging ban has been in place on the Champs Elys �es since September -- which, although it was due to run until January, has now been extended until the summer.
Restrictions are also in effect around the popular Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores, as well as the Louvre art gallery and adjacent Tuileries Gardens.
The clampdown has been instigated by Claude Gu �ant, France's notoriously hard-line Interior Minister. Instructions have been issued to arrest 'aggressive beggars'.
The move seems to be particularly targeted at Romanian immigrants. Gu �ant has reportedly called on the services of 33 Romanian police officers to help enforce the measures, and says that Romanians account for one in six appearances in Paris courts.
Under attack However, the move has been heavily criticised in some quarters. Bertrand Delanoe, Paris's socialist mayor, has denounced the clampdown as a 'PR stunt' designed to 'stigmatise part of the population.'
"Wanting to fight poverty by repression and fines is shocking at a time when the state isn't fulfilling its obligations in housing vulnerable young people or providing emergency accommodation," Delanoe said.
Political commentators have identified the policy as an attempt by Nicolas Sarkozy's government to take a tough stance on law and order, with the next presidential election just four months away.
Did you know? In the past, anti-begging regulations have been in place in cities as far apart as Boulogne, La Rochelle, Pau and Marseille, as well as the capital.