The stands have been operating on the Seine for around 150 years

Paris (AFP) - Paris booksellers, who have operated from little dark green kiosks on the banks of the Seine for some 150 years, are incensed by plans to remove them for the opening ceremony of the 2024 Olympics.

In a test run on Friday, four of the stands were lifted by a crane three metres above the ground – drawing consternation and anger from a small group of booksellers gathered nearby.

Paris city hall official Pierre Rabadan told a news conference on Saturday that the exercise went off without a hitch.

“Today we are sure we can move – that is to say remove and then put back – boxes in good conditions in a reasonable time,” he said.

Paris police chief Laurent Nunez, in a bid to calm outraged booksellers or “bouquinistes”, stressed that the stands would “only be removed when strictly necessary, notably for security reasons.”

“I am aware of the importance of bouquinistes as an attraction of the capital,” he said.

Already struggling to bounce back from shutdowns during the Covid pandemic and a longer-run loss of interest from locals, the booksellers are refusing to miss out on the 16 million tourists expected for the Games.

“It’s like a tooth extraction!” Michel Bouetard, general secretary of the Cultural Association of Booksellers of Paris, told AFP.

“All this for a four-hour ceremony! The Olympic Games have achieved what the wars (World Wars I and II) have not been able to do – to make us disappear,” he fumed.

Paris’s city hall is planning a spectacular opening ceremony on July 26 next year – the first time the event is being held outdoors – on a stretch of the Seine river along the city’s most touristy parts.

The Paris police has ordered the removal of some 600 of the 900 kiosks before the ceremony over security concerns with fears they could be used to conceal explosive devices during the grand opening with a parade of nearly 11,000 athletes along the river.

The booksellers use the green boxes to house some 300,000 old books and a great number of journals, stamps and trading cards.

They are part of the Paris landscape and a huge tourist attraction.

“All this is over the top, we aren’t sure that they will return,” said Jerome Callais, the president of the booksellers’ association.

- ‘It’s a historic moment’ -

It is the sole livelihood for many of the 230-odd booksellers whose stalls flank the city’s famous Left and Right banks.

“What will they do if they cannot work for several weeks?” said Callais.

Some elected officials have backed them.

“We are against this, all this has been decided to make space for advertising along the banks,” said Corine Faugeron, head of the Greens group in the Paris City Council.

Others have appealed to President Emmanuel Macron to halt the initiative.

Bookseller Michel Bouetard says the move is like a tooth extraction

Francis Robert, a bookseller for 43 years, said he had met with Macron in October, when the French leader passed by the riverbank.

“He told us ‘I am aware, I will defend you, you are part of Paris’,” Robert said.

“But he is above the prefect of Paris, he can just tell them to let us remain.”

Another bookseller added: “Why do we need to remove when the security barriers will be put up one-and-a-half metres from the quays?”

Friday’s test run ended shortly after midnight, with the four boxes being planted back to where they have stood for decades.

“It’s a historic moment,” said a teary-eyed bookseller.