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Visitors to Paris typically come home talking about the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the traffic around the Etoile, the shopping and “the French.” Unfortunately, tourists also come back telling tales about the notorious pickpockets that prey on visitors to the French capital. The French, though, are showing signs that they too have had enough of their fast-fingered countrymen. The Eiffel Tower was closed today by a workers protest against the growing presence of pickpockets at the landmark.
The workers at the Eiffel Tower walked off their jobs on Friday to protest against the recent surge in gangs of pickpockets threatening visitors to the monument, which draws about seven million people a year (of which an estimated 75 percent are foreigners). The workers have also been subject to recent attacks. A spokeswoman for the employees’ union told reporters that pickpocketing incidents keep increasing and that, last weekend, “three of our employees received direct threats, and we didn’t want to wait until it came to physical violence.”
The pickpocketing bands usually form groups of four or five people stationed on the various tower levels and on the ground nearby (where tourists often stop to take pictures of themselves in front of the iconic Parisian site.) At times, there might be 30 thieves working the monument.
The approximately 80 tower employees want better protection for both tourists and themselves from the threat of theft or assault by pickpockets. A representative from the workers’ union told reporters that they are asking “for a permanent police presence here.”
The tower’s management company, la Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (SETE), reached a temporary agreement with the workers to return to work later in the day. The management firm will bring in private security. That will keep the tower open this weekend and, as a company spokesperson indicated stop visitors to Paris from “being punished” by a strike. Additionally, the Paris police force is reportedly adding patrols in the Tower vicinity.
The Paris pickpocket problem is an issue throughout the city, not just the Eiffel Tower. The U.S. Department of State cautions Americans to watch out for gangs around any of the major tourist sites, such as Notre Dame and the Champs-Elysées; train stations; hotels; subways and other areas that draw vacationers. They even advise visitors to never carry more money or credit cards than needed. (They also suggest keeping a copy of all numbers and contact info, as well as one’s passport, in the hotel or in someone’s care in case of a theft.)
A similar closure took place a couple of years ago at the Louvre Museum, home to the Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa and other renowned works of art. That walkout was staged because workers at the museum, which draws 10 million visitors each year, were complaining about the pickpocketing bands haunting the galleries and even assaulting staff. That action reportedly resulted in additional policy being assigned to protect the museum and its patrons.
Paris is one of the top destinations to visit in the world, hosting approximately 22 million visitors annually. But it has long been known for its problems with pickpockets. In response to complaints about crime in tourist areas as well as heightened security concerns since the attacks at the beginning of the year on a kosher supermarket and at the newspaper Charlie Hebdo, Paris authorities have increased the police presence and use of video surveillance,
Yesterday, the police announced that crime in the city was down. They indicated that pickpocketing was down 23 percent this year to-date over last year. However, the staff action at the Eiffel Tower today – forcing the monument to be closed by a protest against the pickpockets in Paris—seems to tell a different story. Otherwise, it implies that a 23 percent drop is barely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the crime problem plaguing the city.
By Dyanne Weiss
Wall Street Journal: Eiffel Tower Reopens After Strike
BBC: Eiffel Tower suffers shutdown over pickpockets
U.S. State Department: Pickpockets in Paris: How to Avoid Becoming A Victim
New York Times: Eiffel Tower Disrupted Amid Workers’ Anger About Pickpockets
Daily Mail: Eiffel Tower closes to visitors as workers stage walkout over concerns about aggressive pickpockets in French capital
Photo by Dyanne Weiss