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Paris braces for more violence as cops fail to reassure

Fabio Benedetti-Valentini, Marthe Fourcade and Rudy Ruitenberg
Bloomberg News

Paris — Unease pervaded Paris after Europe’s worst terrorist bloodshed in more than a decade, with a sense among residents that the police cars cruising the streets and soldiers guarding closed parks won’t be enough to stave off more attacks.

On the streets, emptier than usual, Parisians routines were disrupted over the weekend, with major parks, cinemas, museums and food markets shuttered. As they returned to work and school on Monday, there was a degree of foreboding, with the army presence failing to instill a sense of security.

“Unfortunately, we’ll have to get used to this type of threat, like in Lebanon or Afghanistan,” said Pascal Galopin, 50, a movie producer from the suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt. “They have hit France’s art de vivre.”’

Parisians’ anxiety was on display Sunday night, when firecrackers sparked a panic on Place de la Republique, where hundreds had gathered in a show of solidarity and defiance following the assaults Friday that left 132 people dead. The crowd fled for stairwells and public car parks in a near stampede amid rumors that shots had been fired.

More strikes are possible, Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned on Monday.“We are at war against terrorism, it can hit and hit again in the coming days,” he told RTL radio. “I’m not saying this to scare, but so that the French are aware.”

Concern was rising even before Friday’s attacks. That morning, Le Parisien newspaper highlighted a report showing that terrorism had become the No. 2 worry for the French, behind only unemployment. The assaults last January on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a kosher grocery that left 17 dead accounted for the concern, the government statistics office and the National Monitoring Center for Delinquency said in the release.

The assailants on Friday targeted restaurants, bars and a popular concert hall in the heart of Paris, as well as a stadium in a nearby suburb. While President Francois Hollande said the response would be “merciless,” residents and visitors alike said an excessive security clampdown would limit freedom, handing a victory of sorts to the perpetrators. Paris’s lightness and spontaneity already rank as victims, they said.

“I don’t feel scared, I feel sad,” said Edoardo Poli, 28, who’s studying medicine in Rome and arrived in Paris on Friday night to visit his girlfriend. “If people are scared and don’t go out, the terrorists win.”

Paula Bardalo, a Portuguese physicist who’d planned a four- day weekend around seeing museum exhibits and visiting old friends, deplored that so much of public life had been shut down. Hollande on Sunday said France would extend a state of emergency imposed on Friday for three months.

“There’s a strange mood,” Galopin said. “Museums are closed but people want to get out. We are standing in front of the Luxembourg gardens, one of Paris’s biggest parks, and it’s closed. It’s a pity because many people are taking a stroll just to find a way to resist.”

Even as some complained of the siege atmosphere, others criticized the government’s security apparatus for failing to stop the second major attack in the heart of Paris in less than a year, and called for a tougher approach.

“You’ve got to be vigilant, and this is a new feeling,” said Michele Sainfeld, 75, a retired teacher who volunteers to help two Afghan immigrants learn French. “Security measures are too weak."