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China Warns Citizens About Travel to Paris - 2001-08-03

Paris may be the world's top tourist destination, but it is not for everyone. The Chinese government is warning its citizens to avoid the French capital for fear of crime. But it appest that when it comes to crime in the city, most visitors are quite blase.

After days of muggy heat, Pavo Januczowski and his friend David Lazinski are enjoying the cool light drizzle of a Paris summer's afternoon, as they gaze at the Eiffel Tower. The Polish secondary school students, both 18, have wandered the city's streets for the past two weeks. They like French food, and they describe Parisians as nice and polite.

Neither of them has had to face a problem endured by some tourists and city dwellers; that is, neither has been a victim of pickpockets or other petty criminals. In fact, Mr. Januczowski believes his native Warsaw is far more dangerous than Paris. "You can easily be robbed. [And you have to be worried about more than pickpockets.] You can just be stopped by a group of young people who say "give me your money, give me your watch, give me your mobile [phone]," he said. "It's a bigger problem [in Warsaw]. Here you can say that we feel safe."

Not everybody agrees with this assessment. The Beijing government has urged Chinese students and tourists to avoid traveling to Paris because they may be robbed. The Chinese media also say Chinese shopkeepers in Paris are concerned about crime in the city.

A French foreign ministry spokesman has called the reports astonishing. He says the crime allegations were, as he put it, excessive and unique to the Chinese. But crime statistics released this week by the French government appear to support the Chinese fears. They indicate the number of crimes in France has jumped by almost 10 percent since January. Much of the increased crime was reported in rural areas. Nonetheless, the majority of criminal activity still takes place in big French cities, like Paris. The increased crime rates, particularly among youth, have also sparked concern by French President Jacques Chirac. Last month, he called for a policy of zero-tolerance toward delinquents.

But recent interviews with half a dozen tourists in Paris found many unconcerned. That includes Kevin Yim, from Hong Kong. Mr. Yim said he had heard about the security concerns from his brother, who has lived in a predominantly Chinese neighborhood in Paris for 20 years. But Mr. Yim said he is enjoying Paris anyway. "I am not afraid, because I just come here to travel. I am not afraid." he said.

But French authorities may be less happy about what Mr. Yim likes best about Paris. It is not the Eiffel Tower, or the famous Louvre museum. It is Euro-Disney, the Disney World-inspired theme park, just outside the city.