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Monday, November 7, 2005 - Page updated at 03:16 PM

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Paris isn't burning, but travel impacts are feared

Peter Ford, an American journalist who lives in Paris, spent a quiet weekend with friends and family in the French capital — going out to dinner, taking walks and watching his son play rugby in a western Paris suburb.

He was a little surprised to find that people abroad think he and his neighbors must be cowering in their basements, sheltering from rioters and fires.

"First, I would describe this as sporadic outbursts of violence, rather than rioting," said Ford, who writes for the Christian Science Monitor. "Secondly, almost all the trouble so far has broken out in small pockets of distressed areas where journalists are the only outside visitors. You have to go looking for trouble to find it."

Still, a couple of Peter's foreign friends have had worried phone calls from relatives, wondering if they are safe. And a visitor was a little nervous about taking the airport train to Charles de Gaulle on the weekend: the suburban line runs right through the hot spots, and one train was stoned last week.

France's tourism minister, Leon Bertrand, said the riots could damage France's reputation if they lasted.

"It is clear that if this movement — which has already lasted 11 days — continues — we will have to address concerns about our image," Bertrand told the Reuters news agency.

The suburbs are far from the tourist-beloved, historic center of Paris. But some in the tourism industry, and some visitors, are concerned:

"It's really worrying. The tourists will stay away," said John Diaz, polishing miniature models of the Eiffel Tower in his souvenir shop next to Notre Dame Cathedral in the heart of the city.

"Lots of people have come in here and asked me whether it is safe to go to the Eiffel Tower. This is really hurting the city's image," said Diaz, who has run his shop for 14 years.

Rioting grows

The unrest broke out in late October in the impoverished suburbs of Paris that are home to Arab and black African immigrants.

The riots started when two teens were accidentally electrocuted in a Paris suburb while apparently fleeing police. The unrest has since spread to other French cities. Thousands of cars have been burned — including 1,408 last night, the most yet — and some buildings torched. Dozens of police/security officers have been injured and one man, who was beaten near his home in a Paris suburb, died today. He was the first fatality.

Tourism minister Bertrand sought to assuage fears, saying France remained a safe place to visit.

"The situation is not alarming. The places that have been affected at night are not normally frequented by tourists. No tourist has had any difficulties yet," he said. "France remains a safe destination in terms of tourism, despite everything

A U.S. State Department spokesman has urged Americans to avoid the run-down Paris suburbs, and other counties called for travelers to be cautious including Australia, Canada, Britain, Russia and the Netherlands.

Material from the Christian Science Monitor, Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company



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