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Flame arrives in Marseille amid tight security

Flame arrives in Marseille amid tight security
Paris Olympics 2024 - Arrival of the Olympic Flame in Marseille - Marseille, France - May 8, 2024 The "Belem", a three-masted sailing ship that carries the Olympic Flame sails to the Old Port ahead of the Paris Olympics 2024 REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

MARSEILLE, France, May 8 (Reuters) - The Olympic flame reached Marseille, just outside the Old Port, amid tight security on Wednesday, 79 days before the Paris 2024 Games Opening Ceremony.

More than 150,000 people are expected to attend the ceremony after a six-hour parade of the three-masted Belem, which left Greece on April 27 with the flame after it was lit in Ancient Olympia 11 days earlier.

The ship was awaited by 1,024 boats.

Around 6,000 law enforcement officers are securing the area before Florent Manaudou, France’s 2012 Olympic men’s 50 metres freestyle swimming champion, brings the flame to land shortly after 1730 GMT in the presence of President Emmanuel Macron.

Police canine units and elite forces snipers have also been deployed.

“It’s an unprecedented level of security,” Interior minister Gerald Darmanin said. “Life goes on in Marseille but in great security conditions.

“We conceived this event as a ceremony, the fifth of the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics (on top of the opening and closing ceremonies,” said Paris 2024 executive director Thierry Reboul who is in charge of ceremonies.

“Marseille is the ideal spot to create memories.”

“It was the obvious choice,” Tony Estanguet, the president of the Paris 2024 organising committee, said of Marseille, which was founded around 600 BC by Greek settlers from Phocea.

That will be followed by a free rap concert on a floating stage in front of 45,000 spectators.

“It’s a huge honour and I think it’s an exceptional promotion for the city,” retiree and boat owner Henri Gerente, told Reuters.

“It will be watched by hundreds of millions of people, so I am very proud and I hope that everyone will participate in this momentum. It can only be a good thing for the economy and for everything else, for the image of the city. So I’m proud of it.”

On Wednesday morning, the tranquility of the gentle breeze was matched only by the glittering of the Mediterranean sea in the background of the Old Port, making for an ideal day in France’s oldest city.

The relay will start on Thursday with former Olympique de Marseille soccer players Jean-Pierre Papin, Didier Drogba and Basile Boli, as well as three-star chef Alexandre Mazzia among the torch bearers.

More than 10,000 people will take part in the torch relay before the flame reaches Paris and is installed near the Louvre, in the Jardin des Tuileries.

The Olympic Opening Ceremony will take place on the River Seine on July 26.

(Reporting by Reuters TV, Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ed Osmond and Christian Radnedge)

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