July 25, 2015 / 11:54 AM / 4 years ago

Saudi king's French Riviera holiday provokes beach protest

Municipal police partrol the public beach called "La Mirandole" which is seen below the villa owned by the king of Saudi Arabia in Vallauris - Golf Juan, France, July 18, 2015. Unauthorized work initiated at the request of the Saudi royal family to build an access from the villa to the public beach, which included laying a cement slab in the sand, has been interrupted, according to the French media. Access to the small beach is due to be closed to the public for security measures during the summer holiday stay of Saudi Arabia's King Salman and his entourage. REUTERS/Jean-Pierre Amet

NICE, France (Reuters) - Saudi King Salman and a 1,000-entourage arrived on Saturday for holiday on the French Riviera, where over 100,000 residents have petitioned against the closure of the public beach outside his villa.

The monarch’s plane landed at Nice airport and he was driven away in a 10-vehicle motorcade, the local prefecture said.

The new king and his inner circle’s three-week visit at the family’s seafront villa in Vallauris, where U.S. actress Rita Hayworth celebrated her wedding to Prince Aly Khan of Pakistan in 1949, will be a boon for the local economy.

But the closure of the public beach for privacy and security reasons has stirred up a local storm. A petition against the “privatization” of the Mirandole beach below the Saudi villa gathered more than 100,000 signatures in a week.

The mayor of Vallauris also wrote to President Francois Hollande to protest against unauthorized work done by the Saudis at the property, where a slab of concrete was poured directly onto the sand to install an elevator.

“We understand the security reasons and the nation’s greater interest. But nobody can exonerate himself from the laws of the land,” Mayor Michelle Salucki wrote.

Hotels, restaurants and luxury shops along the Mediterranean coast, by contrast, welcome the visit. Several hundred members of the royal entourage will stay at hotels along the coast.

“The economic impact for us, but also restaurants, chauffeurs and all those who worked at his villa, is real,” said Serge Reinhard, director of the four-star Hotel Montaigne in Cannes where half of the rooms have been booked by Saudis.

France has been nurturing new links with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab countries over the last three years due to its tough stance on Iran and similar positions on conflicts across the Middle East, and is beginning to see commercial rewards.

Reporting by Matthias Galante in Nice; Writing by Michel Rose; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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