PARIS - France’s leftist government announced plans Wednesday to extend for another two months the state of emergency put in place after November’s terrorist attacks in Paris to cover two major international sporting events, as experts warn of fresh threats facing Europe.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the government wanted to prolong the current state of emergency set to expire May 26 to guarantee security for both the Euro 2016 football (soccer) championship and the Tour de France cycling race.
“We have to ensure security,” Valls said on France Info radio. “The state of emergency cannot be permanent, but on occasion of these two big events… we have decided to extend it.”
The month-long Euro 2016 starts on June 10, while the Tour de France runs from July 2 through 24.
France is the only European country to declare a state of emergency because of terrorism, putting the measure in place after November's shootings and bombings around the capital that killed 130 people.
The attacks were the second to hit Paris in a year, following January’s shootings targeting the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a Jewish market.
Neighboring Belgium did not emulate the action after last month’s suicide bombings at Brussels airport and a metro station that killed 32 people.
France's state of emergency, which widens police powers to conduct searches and arrests, was last extended in February. While previous polls indicate many French support the emergency powers — at least for now — human rights groups have sharply criticized what they claim to be widespread abuses that particularly target the Muslim community.
Socialist President Francois Hollande was ultimately forced to drop efforts to write the state of emergency into the constitution, along with a highly controversial proposal to strip French citizenship of convicted terrorists.
Leading members of the opposition conservative party offered guarded support for further extending the state of emergency — which needs a parliamentary vote — even as they criticized the government’s overall security response.
“Apart from reinforcing the special police and soldiers... on our streets, what measures have been taken?” asked former minister Christian Estrosi, of the conservative Republicans party.
On Tuesday, however, the government announced a new intervention doctrine to ostensibly guarantee a 20-minute response to a terrorist strike on population centers anywhere in France.
Following November’s attacks, security forces were particularly criticized for their slow reaction to the bombings and hostage takings at the Bataclan concert hall.
With roughly 2.5 million spectators expected to attend dozens of matches at 10 separate stadiums, the Euro 2016 tournament promises to be another security challenge. The Stade de France outside Paris — one of the targets of November’s terrorist attacks — is to open and close the event.
Meanwhile, experts warn of fresh attacks to come.
Speaking in London Tuesday, the head of the EU’s law enforcement agency Europol warned there were a “sizeable number of potential terrorists in Europe,” adding that he was not certain whether all the suspects in the Brussels and Paris attacks have been arrested.