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French Soccer Team Returns to Stadium, Site of Paris Attacks

  • Associated Press

A French supporter wrapped in his national flag passes by police officers guarding the Stade de France stadium prior to the international exhibition soccer match between France and Russia in Saint Denis, north of Paris, March 29, 2016.

A French supporter wrapped in his national flag passes by police officers guarding the Stade de France stadium prior to the international exhibition soccer match between France and Russia in Saint Denis, north of Paris, March 29, 2016.

A calm atmosphere surrounded the Stade de France on Tuesday evening as France's soccer team returned to its national stadium for the first time since last November's attacks in Paris.

Security had been tightened ahead of the game, with police cars patrolling around the arena in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, while fans gathered at concessions areas a couple of hours before France took on Russia in an exhibition game.

With police sirens wailing in the distance, families slowly walked along the main esplanade as a rare ray of light broke through the clouds, while a group of supporters raised the Russian flag and took selfies.

"I'm not afraid, life goes on,'' said Benoit Guyot, who traveled from the eastern region of Alsace to watch the game. Guyot told The Associated Press he had never seen France playing at its home stadium before and said the high level of alert in the French capital did not frighten him.

"I've never seen as many security forces at a sporting event,'' he said. "I'm reassured.''

Those measures follow the bombings on November 13, when 130 people were killed on a night of attacks in Paris. Suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the stadium during France's exhibition game against Germany, killing one bystander.

Rugby matches

Though Tuesday's game at the stadium where France won the 1998 World Cup is the first for the soccer team since those attacks, France has played three Six Nations rugby matches there without incident.

Security measures in place Tuesday were similar to those deployed during the rugby tournament, including increased checks on public transportation and the area around the stadium.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters at the stadium that 575 police officers and 1,200 privately hired security guards were on patrol. Cazeneuve added that the stadium's parking lots were checked by bomb disposal units and that all vehicles entering the arena were searched.

It took a bit longer than usual for fans to reach the stadium from downtown Paris because of slowdowns on the subway network.

Once they had made it to Saint-Denis, a first safety perimeter was set up near the stadium, where private security guards made body searches under the watchful eyes of armed policemen. Fans were then searched and had their tickets checked again once they reached the turnstiles.

The deputy head of the Paris public order and road traffic authority, Laurent Simonin, said this week that snipers, as well as members of the elite unit of the French national police known as RAID, would be ready to intervene if needed.

Security measures are expected to be even tighter when France hosts the European Championship June 10-July 10. About 2.5 million fans are set to attend matches in the 10 host cities being used for the soccer tournament.

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