May 23, 2017 / 6:36 AM / 3 months ago

France steps up security at public venues, plans new counter-terrorism body

Police officers look at flowers and messages left for the victims of the Manchester Arena attack, in central Manchester, Britain May 23, 2017.Darren Staples

PARIS (Reuters) - France ordered heightened security at sports and cultural events on Tuesday and President Emmanuel Macron said he would set up a new counter-terrorism coordinating body after a suicide bomber killed 22 people at a British concert hall.

Macron and senior ministers walked to the British Embassy in Paris to sign the condolence book and affirm their solidarity with Britain after the Manchester attack, which had echoes of November 2015 Islamist attacks on the Bataclan concert hall and other parts of Paris that killed 130 people.

"Our terrorist enemies have struck again," Macron wrote in the condolence book. "We are more united and determined than ever in facing them."

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the government had given instructions to organisers of sporting and cultural events in France to strengthen security measures following the Manchester attack, which has been claimed by Islamic State.

Paris police chief Michel Delpuech said he had ordered a stepped-up police presence around theatres particularly at the start and end of events.

The police were also drawing up a list of "sensitive" events likely to draw young spectators, such as cinema, theatre and sports venues, including the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris next week, he said.

Speaking at the British Embassy, Macron said he would chair a "defence cabinet" of senior ministers on Wednesday to work on setting up a task force against Islamic State.

Altogether more than 230 people have been killed in France in attacks by Islamist militants in the past two years.

Centrist Macron, elected on May 7, promised during the campaign to create a permanent staff of officials, attached to the president's office, to centralise information on security and counter-terrorism.

Wednesday's meeting will also work on increasing coordination between intelligence services and further strengthening security measures, Macron said, calling for stronger European cooperation to fight terrorism.

Government spokesman Christophe Castaner told France 2 television however that France had no indication of any coordinated plan "to hit Europe".

Since the 2015 attacks, France has been in a state of emergency and has soldiers patrolling its streets alongside police to protect tourist sites, government buildings and events.

Macron told British Prime Minister Theresa May in a phone call on Tuesday that he had mobilised all means of cooperation to help Britain in the fight against terrorism, his office said.

"It is clearly the whole of Europe, and free Europe, which has been attacked. It is European and British young people who have been attacked in their heart," Macron said, summarising what he had told May.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe called on French citizens to be vigilant following the Manchester attack, which Philippe described as an "abominable crime."

Reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey, Marine Pennetier, Sophie Louet, Caroline Pailliez, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Adrian Croft; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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