PARIS, April 21 ― Tourists were back on the Champs Elysees early today with a mixture of shock and defiance, a day after a jihadist shot dead a policeman on the world-famous avenue on the eve of France’s election.
“I needed to get out, to come back here and see the sunshine and that everything was OK,” said Lebanese tourist Zeina Bitar, 45, who was shopping on the boulevard with her children when the gunman struck.
Nearby, a police officer laid a white rose at the site where the shooter felled his comrade with an automatic weapon, unleashing a firefight in which the assailant was killed and two other officers were wounded.
“We heard the shots and people were running in every direction,” said Bitar, adding that her children were in tears. “But people were calm, we were well treated and they gave us hot chocolate.”
Under a cloudless spring sky, the dozens of emergency and security vehicles of the night before had been replaced by media trucks on the glitzy tree-lined avenue -- a symbol of Paris.
Passers-by snapped pictures of shop windows punctured by bullet holes.
“What’s happening here?” asked Indian tourist Chaintnya Veeraghanta, 25, who had been unaware of the shooting.
“I knew there were terrorism attacks in France last year, but I thought it was over,” she said.
More than 230 people have been killed in jihadist attacks in France since early 2015, leading to a ramping up of security, with thousands of troops deployed to patrol key sites.
Eric Winkler, 51, an American visiting the French capital from Boston, told AFP: “It was scary. We heard the shots so we ran to our hotel... and found out it was terrorism by watching the news.”
But he and his 16-year-old daughter Hailey took it in their stride.
“It’s happening all over the world, also in America,” Winkler said. “We have to deal with it, they’re not going to stop us from living and doing what we want to do.”
Bitar’s friend Pascale Saad, 42, also from Lebanon, said she was worried about the effects the attack would have on France’s presidential election starting with its first round of voting on Sunday.
“I really don’t know what’s going to happen Sunday,” she said. “I’m afraid that things will degenerate and that people will all vote for Marine Le Pen.”
The far-right presidential candidate, who is riding high in the polls, is seen as the most hardline on the issue of terror attacks and advocates harsh limits on immigration.
Visiting from Los Angeles, 60-year-old Felix Cervantes said he could have been at the Champs Elysees on Thursday evening but had gone to the Louvre museum instead.
“I’m not afraid at all,” he said. “We’re going to stay in Paris till next week whatever happens.”
Scottish tourist Lesly Douglas, 55, had mixed feelings: “We’re convinced that Paris is the safest place in the world, but of course we were scared seeing the policemen with their guns.”
But her 62-year-old husband Michael was adamant that the couple would visit the French capital “for years to come”, adding: “Vive Paris!” ― AFP