King Salaman of Saudi Arabia is spending his summer vacation along the French Riviera — and is causing a lot of trouble in the process.
The king seemingly acts as if French laws do not apply to him, something that’s angered locals. A usually busy beach has been closed in the middle of the summer, and the king has engaged in illegal construction work as well.
The latest outrage was sparked when the French magazine Marianne reported that King Salaman had reportedly asked a French policewoman to step away from his villa’s security perimeter so that she would not be close to men when they went swimming.
According to Le Monde, local police published a statement on Tuesday saying that women had been working at the villa since the beginning of the king’s visit and that her presence had not caused any problems.
But the incident reinforces an already negative view of the king’s excesses, which residents of the French Riviera are rapidly growing to resent.
The problems started with the discovery of illegal construction work taking place around the king’s villa. The king aimed to cut off access to the public La Mirandole beach that goes around the compound. This construction was discovered and then shut down. But after some back and forth, a compromise was reached, albeit one that probably didn’t satisfy many locals: it was decided the beach would actually remain closed to everyone but the king and his entourage, as police said it was impossible to have a head of state “coexist” with the general public.
The beach was closed on July 25th a few hours before the arrival of the king as officials feared protester occupation of the beach following the controversy. Boats have been banned from approaching the coastline around the villa as well.
Since the closure of the beach, a local city official started a petition against closing off access to beaches for the benefit of private individuals. The petition says that the closure of the beach goes against French law, which prohibits the privatization of any beaches.
“Where are we going, if the rich and powerful can, under the pretext of spending a lot of money, not respect the law?,” the petition asks. It’s now gathered over 140,000 signatures.
But not everyone in the area is upset. The villa, which King Fahd bought in 1979 is located only three miles from Cannes’ city center. The king and the 1000 people accompanying him spend lavishly.
The economic boon to the area prompted another resident to start a second petition in support of the Saudi king’s vacation, saying that the benefits for local businesses as well as the prestige associated with hosting the royal family warranted having to go to the beach somewhere else for a month.
Other locals have expressed frustration at how the controversy over beach access could potentially jeopardize substantial profits to the tourism industry in the region: the Saudi government has booked 500 rooms ub luxury hotels in Cannes and areas around the villa for the king’s entourage.
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