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Saudi king abruptly ends French holiday; Riviera beach reopens

La Mirandole, the public beach below the villa owned by the king of Saudi Arabia in Vallauris Golfe-Juan
La Mirandole, the public beach below the villa owned by the king of Saudi Arabia in Vallauris Golfe-Juan Reuters/Jean-Pierre Amet

A beach along the Côte d’Azur that had controversially been closed to accommodate a visit by King Salman of Saudi Arabia reopened Monday after the monarch unexpectedly ended his holiday early.

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The royal ended the trip eight days after arriving at his luxury holiday villa on Mirandole beach in Vallauris Golfe-Juan, about 6km from Cannes, in what had been billed as a three-week vacation.

He boarded a flight from Nice airport to the Moroccan city of Tangiers on Sunday along with at least half of his 1,000-strong entourage, Alpes-Maritimes region official Philippe Castanet told French news agency AFP.

"We can assume that the king has ended his stay at Golfe-Juan," Castanet said, and security measures that had been put in place around the villa would now be "progressively lifted".

The closure of the beach had enraged the locals and generated global headlines, while more than 150,000 people had signed a petition protesting against the “privatisation” of a French public beach.

Authorities had closed a kilometre stretch of beach ahead of the visit to prevent an occupation of the area, and a ban on approaching closer than 300 metres of the villa by sea went into effect.

Locals were also upset about illegal construction work by the villa. Workers had tried to install a fence to close access to the beach during the king's arrival, but local authorities intervened and it was removed, as was a metal catwalk bolted to the rock cliffs upon which the villa sits.

A cement platform was also poured on the beach for an elevator up to the villa, which local authorities allowed on condition the elevator would be removed after the visit.

At the same time, local shop owners saw the visit as a boon for the Riviera, rolling out the red carpet for the king and his big-spending delegation. Michel Chevillon, manager of the Croisette Beach hotel and president of the Union of Cannes Hoteliers, had told AFP that he expected revenues to jump by up to 20 per cent in July.

The Saudis were spending up to 9 million euros on accommodation alone during the three-week visit, according to the news agency.

It was not immediately clear whether the royal departure was linked to the controversy over the beach. Some members of the king's entourage had voiced their unhappiness at the level of scrutiny that their arrival induced.

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