Paris Calls Off Festival of US Culture after Threats

Published on
by
the Guardian/UK

Paris Calls Off Festival of US Culture after Threats

by
Kim Willsher

PARIS - A festival due to be held in Paris this weekend to celebrate American music and culture has been called off after death threats from an anti-US group claiming links to al-Qaida.

Organisers of the Three Days in America festival said the decision to postpone the event - also aimed at demonstrating "Franco-American friendship" - was taken to safeguard the public. 0522 07

The death threats, along with warnings suggesting that the event itself might be attacked, were made in anonymous telephone calls and an apparently badly written letter containing numerous spelling mistakes.

These accused the festival's organisers of supporting the "American imperialists" and the recently elected rightwing French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, nicknamed "Sarkozy the American" for his pro-US views.

After meeting police and anti-terrorist officers, Gilles Yolle, the festival production director, said he had no regrets about calling off the festival.

It was due to be held this Bank Holiday weekend in the Parc St Cloud on the outskirts of the capital, and was expected to attract 20,000 visitors.

"We've lost money on this, particularly as the posters and publicity had already gone out, but we felt it was better to be safe," said Mr Yolle. "At first with the phone calls we thought it might be just some people who were a bit unhappy about the event. But then when we got the letter with specific threats we felt we had to take it seriously."

He added: "If these had come three months beforehand there might have been time to investigate, but at such short notice we felt we had to act to safeguard the public."

US-French relations have been strained since former president Jacques Chirac opposed the American-led invasion of Iraq.

The festival, featuring country and gospel music by American and European performers, line-dancing, a display of classic American cars, demonstrations by a Western-style horse-whisperer and tributes to Elvis Presley and John Wayne, was also targeted last year, the first time it was held.

Chantal Tenot, the event's press officer, said: "Last year we received threats several months before the event but we discovered they came from a small group of north-Africans in the banlieue and we were able to deal with them.

"This time when we received the letter with a mixture of threats, mentioning al-Qaida and full of spelling mistakes we weren't sure how serious it was. But coming just before the event we couldn't take the risk. It's in a big park and we cannot have a security officer up every tree."

She said the organisers had lost between €70,000 and €90,000 (£47,000-£61,000) postponing the event. They hope to re-arrange it for September.

"Then the elections will have long been over and hopefully the political situation will have calmed down a bit," said Ms Tenot. "We postponed the festival because we didn't know for sure if the group was genuinely dangerous or not and we didn't have the time to find out.

"But one thing is for sure: the festival will go ahead later in the year and we are not giving in to some shady group making threats against us."
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

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