PARIS, France – Hundreds of armed police have been placed around Paris’ major tourist monuments because of an influx of criminal gangs from eastern Europe.
It follows a huge increase in the number of aggressive beggars and pickpockets flooding into the French capital from Romania and Bulgaria – countries whose citizens will soon have unrestricted access to the UK.
The Louvre alone now has 20 permanent uniformed officers patrolling its galleries, with five of them placed at the entrance.
They arrived at the weekend, after staff went on strike to complain about youngsters attacking them as they steal from visitors.
Similar patrols have been placed around sacred monuments including Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sacre-Cœur, the Eiffel Tower, the Pompidou Centre, and even the Palace of Versailles, west of Paris.
Explaining the Louvre deployment, deputy director Herve Barbaret said: ‘The presence of uniformed police officers has a significant deterrent effect.
‘We hope they will stay as long as possible, for several months, until the situation returns to normal.’
Mr Herve said plain clothes officers were also mingling with some of the eight million plus people who visit the Louvre every year – many of whom are from Britain.
The number of surveillance cameras has also increased, with Mr. Barbaret saying his staff were working with the Paris prosecutors office to ‘get the networks (of criminals) dismantled.’
Gangs of Roma thieves – many of them young children – can now be seen all over Paris, the most popular tourist city in the world.
‘Do you speak English?’ is their usual opening gambit, and then they surround victims, helping themselves to money and possessions.
Two years ago, France’s then Interior Minister said that the vast majority of street robberies in Paris were being carried out by the children of Roma immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria.
Claude Gueant said the notoriously poor and corrupt eastern European states were responsible for exporting some of the most notorious sneak thieves in the world.
Many operated in gangs around the Gare du Nord Eurostar station, preying on British travellers as they arrived by high-speed train from London.
France has shut down illegal camps full of Roma gypsies which have sprung up around the French capital, but crime remains a huge problem.
Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007 but faced restrictions on immigration which are set to be lifted next year, leading to an expected influx into countries like Britain.
A Paris police spokesman said: ‘There has been a huge increase in the number of criminal gangs of pickpockets and other thieves operating in the city in recent years. Everything is being done to combat this threat, including placing more officers at tourist sites.’