As France mourns, it also looks ahead to major climate conference – Washington Post

As France bowed its head in official mourning Friday for 130 people killed by terrorists, it also braced for the challenge of hosting nearly 150 world leaders who will begin arriving this weekend for a critical global summit on the environment.

The events, separated by two weeks of shock and grief, offer a stark juxtaposition between the immediate danger of terrorism and the longer-term existential threat of climate change. They also contrast what many see as a dearth of security leading up to the terrorist attacks and the massive precautions surrounding the climate conference.

The United Nations-sponsored summit is sure to add to the strain on security forces that have already been stretched by an investigation of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks and a hunt for other extremist cells that could be plotting follow-up strikes.

French officials call the climate conference “the biggest peace summit ever organized,” with 147 heads of state and government expected to attend. They will be guarded by 2,800 French police at the conference venue, with thousands more officers deployed throughout the city.

Attendees are slated to include Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Obama, who has emphasized that he sees attendance at the summit as even more important following the attacks.

“I think it’s absolutely vital for every country, every leader, to send a signal that the viciousness of a handful of killers does not stop the world from doing vital business,” Obama said this week.

But some elements of the conference won’t go ahead as planned. Demonstrations have been canceled, with police citing security risks.

Preparations for the summit came as Paris continued to mourn its dead. French President François Hollande fought back tears Friday morning as he led a somber remembrance of the attack victims at the gold-domed Hotel des Invalides, a former military hospital.

With wounded attack victims in wheelchairs and relatives of the dead looking on from a cobblestone courtyard, Hollande said France would “operate relentlessly to protect its children” from attack by “an army of fanatics.”

He also vowed that the country would respond with more music and sporting events following attacks on sites that included a concert hall and a stadium.

Security experts say that if the Islamic State or another militant group were to try to attack Paris during the climate summit, it is more likely that they would again aim for lightly guarded targets rather than attempt to penetrate multiple layers of security at the venue where the world leaders are meeting.

“This generation of terrorists knows that attacking leaders or protected sites is probably out of reach,” said Camille Grand, director of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research. “That doesn’t mean they won’t try. But it’s extremely difficult.”

Grand said organizers are helped by the fact that the summit will be held just outside the city limits, at a conference center in Le Bourget, near Paris’s first airport. The world leaders will be staying on site.

Since the Nov. 13 attacks, France has declared a state of emergency, and security forces have conducted more than 1,000 raids and arrested more than 120 people on terrorism-related charges. Because of the heightened police activity, any would-be attackers “probably want to lay low and stay quiet” until the security crackdown eases, Grand said.

But organizers are not taking chances. Border controls have been tightened, and a section of the Boulevard Peripherique, the major highway that rings Paris, will be shut down during the days the world leaders are in town. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has urged city residents to use public transit, which will be free on those days.

Under regulations passed since the attacks, police have banned demonstrations, forcing nongovernmental organizations to create other options for protest.

Avaaz, a global campaign network whose name means “voice” in several languages, plans to cover the Place de la Republique, a square in central Paris, with shoes symbolizing the footsteps of those who had planned to take part in a demonstration that was being called the Global Climate March. The police have approved the installation of the shoes, which the group has been collecting for the past week. The square is both the city’s unofficial place of mourning and the traditional site for the expression of political discontent.

Other groups are planning to create a human chain between the Place de la Republique and another of the city’s squares, two miles away, or to join what some are calling a “great clamor for climate” by playing music and shouting from their windows for 15 minutes at 8 p.m. each night of the conference.

Several groups including the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and France Nature Environment say they have developed an online tool to allow people to march in the Americas, Africa, Asia or elsewhere in Europe wearing the names and pictures of those who had planned to demonstrate in Paris.

And some say they will simply disobey the police crackdown.

“We need to fight the state of emergency,” said Benjamin Ball, a member of a group called the Les Désobéissants (the Disobedient). “Otherwise [the authorities] will extend it indefinitely.”

At the Place de la Republique on Friday, mourning citizens continued to pay tribute to the victims of the attacks. But they also looked ahead to a summit that many hope will help the world take a stand against an even greater long-term threat.

“We are all submerged in grief,” said Hélène Gauterie, wiping tears from her eyes as she stood before mountains of fading flowers and candles soaked by days of rain. “It’s hard to imagine thinking of anything else.”

But Julie and Marc Motreux, visiting from the southern French city of Nimes, said the threat of climate change was ultimately “more important for the world.”

Thomas Garreau and Justine Baudier, both students from Versailles, west of Paris, came to the square to mourn Quentin Mourier, a professor who died at the Bataclan theater, the scene of the deadliest attack.

“The terrorism happened and could happen again,” said Garreau, who belongs to an organization affiliated with climate politics. The climate conference, he said, could provide “constructive change.”

“Something positive must come of it,” Baudier said.

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