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French beach returns to public after Saudi royal takeover

By AFP - Aug 03,2015 - Last updated at Aug 03,2015

Workers dismantle a temporary elevator on the public beach called ‘La Mirandole’ located below a mansion owned by the Saudi royal family in Golfe Juan Vallauris, southeastern France, on Monday (AP photo)

VALLAURIS, France — Workers were busily returning a beach in southern France to its previous condition on Monday after the premature departure of Saudi King Salman, whose commandeering of the coastline had caused uproar among locals.

A few sun-lovers were replanting their parasols while the workers were dismantling controversial constructions, including an elevator from the beach to the king's grandiose villa, built only a fortnight ago for the royal visit.

King Salman made an early exit on Sunday from the Cote d'Azur only eight days into what was initially billed as a month-long vacation. 

At least half of his 1,000-strong delegation left with him from Nice airport to the Moroccan city of Tangiers, local officials said.

An official source in Riyadh denied the king had any problem with media reports about his controversial Riviera vacation and had travelled to Morocco "as per the holiday programme".

More than 150,000 people signed a petition in France against the closure of the strip of sand in front of the king's villa, which is located near Cannes, and the heavy security measures put in place during his stay. 

Others were more welcoming, particularly local traders, who rolled out the red carpet for the monarch and his big-spending friends.

Michel Chevillon, head of the hoteliers' union in Cannes, said around a dozen four- and five-star hotels were booked up during the Saudi delegation's visit.

Salman also welcomed several French business leaders during his stay.

Only a few beach-goers showed up for the reopening on Monday, which is near the heavily populated sands of Golfe-Juan and also includes a nudist beach. 

"It's the caprice of a billionaire," said retiree Jean-Paul, looking with disdain at the elevator and its unsightly concrete base. 

"I could understand privatising the beach for a week for security reasons, but a month is a bit much. It's a question of principle," he said before heading on to the nudist beach. 

The workers were also dismantling metal scaffolding set up with a view to building a new staircase up to the villa. 

One woman sunning herself in a bikini said she was angry about having to walk the extra 10 minutes to the next public beach over the past eight days. 

"There really aren't many of us using this beach," she said. "We could quite easily have shared it with the royal family."

Every year after the fasting period of Ramadan, more than a third of luxury hotels in the Cannes regions are filled with visitors from the Middle East, leading hotel unions to denounce the uproar over Salman's visit.

"These few wealthy retirees who can't go for a swim beneath their homes for a few days have created a deplorable image of France," said Chevillon.

Beach access is normally open in France because the coast is state-owned, but French authorities may restrict access for security reasons.

 

Officials allowed King Salman's party to pour a cement platform on the beach for the elevator to the villa, on condition that the elevator was removed after the visit. 

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