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French Protesters Try to Derail Beach Takeover by Saudi King and His Massive Entourage

Some locals in Nice are upset that King Salman has fenced off a beach for the exclusive use of his 1,000-member entourage.

by Tessa Stuart
Jul 25 2015, 9:05pm

Photo par Yoan Valat/AP

Protesters greeted King Salman of Saudi Arabia when he arrived in the French Riviera city of Nice on Saturday. Some locals are upset that the king has fenced off a beach for the exclusive use of his 1,000-member entourage. By law, all French beaches are open to the public.

More than 100,000 residents have signed their names to a petition against closure of this particular stretch of sand halfway between Cannes and Antibes, Reuters reports.

Salman, who ascended to the throne in January, has plans to remain in the Cote d'Azur city of Vallauris for three weeks. The royal family's villa there, purchased by the late King Fahd in 1979, has previously played host to celebrities and dignitaries such as Rita Hayworth and Prince Aly Khan, who celebrated their wedding there, as well as Winston Churchill and Elizabeth Taylor.

Besides closing a tunnel that allows access to the beach, protesters object to the fact that workers at the villa have poured a slab of concrete in the sand and plan to install an elevator from the estate to the beach.

Related: Saudi Arabia Has Been Going on a Nuclear Shopping Spree

Blandine Ackermann, president of the Association for the Defence of the Environment and the quality of life of Golfe-Juan Vallauris, has said the group will pursue legal action against King Salman if the closure goes forward.

Saudi representatives are reportedly working to reach an agreement French authorities, but one local politician has already taken her concerns to the highest level. Michelle Salucki, the mayor of Vallauris, appealed to President Francois Hollande for help with the matter.

"We understand the security reasons and the nation's greater interest. But nobody can exonerate himself from the laws of the land," Salucki wrote. On Wednesday morning, Salucki told the French newspaper Metro News she asked local police to prevent a gate from being erected.

The king's entourage numbers about 1,000, with 300 expected to stay at the estate itself and the rest at local hotels.

Serge Reinhard, director of Hotel Montaigne in Cannes where many Saudis will be staying during the trip, told Reuters that he and others in the tourism industry are welcoming the influx of cash that will accompany the royal family.

"The economic impact for us, but also restaurants, chauffeurs, and all those who worked at his villa is real," Reinhard said.

Related: Meet the Saudi Sheikh Who Joined, Then Quit, the Islamic State

Follow Tessa Stuart on Twitter: @tessastuart