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Olympic Torch Arrives In Marseille, 79 Days To Games

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The Olympic flame has arrived on French soil at the southern port city of Marseille amid tight security, 79 days before the opening ceremony of the Paris Games.

After a 12-day trip from Greece on board the 128-year-old three-masted sailing ship Belem, the torch was carried on to land by France’s 2012 Olympic men’s 50m freestyle swimming champion Florent Manaudou.

It was handed to Paralympic track athlete Nantenin Keita, a 400m champion at Rio 2016, before Marseille-born French rapper Jul lit the Paris 2024 Olympic cauldron in front of an estimated crowd of 150,000 that included President Emmanuel Macron.

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“It marks the end of preparations – the Games arrive in the life of the French people. The flame is here. We can be proud,” said Macron.

The Olympic flame relay will set off from the Mediterranean coastal city on Thursday and travel around France and to six overseas territories before arriving in Paris for the opening ceremony on 26 July.

A flotilla of more than 1,000 boats welcomed the Belem to Marseille.

Officials said 6,000 law enforcement officers, canine units and elite forces snipers would be on patrol.

“Life goes on in Marseille but in great security conditions,” said interior minister Gerald Darmanin. “It’s an unprecedented level of security.”

France raised its security threat level last October after a teacher was killed in a knife attack, while there are concerns that wars in Ukraine and Gaza could increase the threat.

In April of this year, Mr Darmanin spoke of an online threat to European sporting events that he said had been “publicly expressed” by the Islamic State group.

The President of the Paris 2024 organising committee, Tony Estanguet, said Marseille was the “obvious choice” to host the boat parade given it is France’s oldest city and was founded by Greeks.

“It’s something we’ve been waiting for for a very long time. The Games are coming home,” added Estanguet, referring to French aristocrat Pierre de Coubertin, who revived the idea of the Games as practised by the Greeks until the 4th Century.

“It’s a huge honour and I think it’s an exceptional promotion for the city,” said retiree and boat owner Henri Gerente.

“It will be watched by hundreds of millions of people, so I am very proud and I hope that everyone will participate in this momentum.

 

“It can only be a good thing for the economy and for everything else, for the image of the city. So I’m proud of it.”

The torch will begin its journey to Paris on Thursday, with former Marseille footballers Jean-Pierre Papin, Didier Drogba and Basile Boli among the torch bearers.

More than 10,000 people will take part in the 7,500-mile torch relay before the flame reaches the capital city and is installed near the Louvre, in the Jardin des Tuileries.

The opening ceremony of the Olympics is due to see more than 10,000 athletes sail along a 6km stretch of the River Seine through the centre of Paris on 160 barges.

However, last month President Macron said the opening ceremony could move if the security risk is too high.

BBC

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