Security fears have forced the cancellation of one of Europe’s oldest street markets in the French city of Lille, sparking criticism and anger from some local authorities who see the decision as a capitulation to terrorism.
Last Friday the city’s mayor Martine Aubry made the announcement, effectively bringing an end to the annual market, which dates back to the 12th century. The gathering is a huge tourism draw and attracted 2.5 million visitors and 10,000 exhibitors to the city in 2015.
Ms. Aubry said that the decision to cancel the event – known as the ‘La Braderie de Lille’ – was prompted by “risks we cannot address” rather than a direct, received threat of terrorist action.
She added: “It’s heart wrenching to make this decision… But to have sharpshooters on roofs at the market, riot police on each street corner and helicopters and drones flying overhead would not be in the spirit of the market.”
The decision has sparked fury in some quarters. Thierry George, head of the northern French UMIH trade and hospitality union, slammed the decision as “incomprehensible”.
“It was taken without any thought for the economic impact and it’s going to be very bad for Lille’s image, especially abroad,” the union leader told AFP. “I appreciate there is no such thing as zero risk, and that we are in a state of emergency, but we could have found a way to let the market go ahead.”
The flea market was due to be held on September the 3rd and 4th.
It joins a growing list of summer events in France that have been scrapped as authorities fear they lack adequate security resources given the unprecedented terror threat.
After the Bastille Day terrorist attack in Nice, the interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve told mayors across the country not to think twice about cancelling an event if they thought security could not be guaranteed.
During a visit to Lyon this week, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France had to take the threat seriously.
“We are in a situation of war. So, for the moment, we have to forbid events if security norms cannot be respected,” he said. “Everyone has to understand that we are in this situation and that it brings constraints.”
Michel Lalande, the top government official in the Lille region, told the BBC the flea market would have presented a security risk because of its “hyper-urban format with its streets full of people”.
He added: “There comes a time, despite our passions and our convictions, when we have to say stop.”
Follow Simon Kent on Twitter: Follow @SunSimonKent or e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org