Security tight as sport returns to Stade de France

Paris (AFP) –


French President Francois Hollande was in the Stade de France Saturday as sport returned to the country's national stadium almost two months after terrorist attacks left 130 people dead in and around Paris.

Hollande had been in the same stadium on November 13, watching a friendly football match against Germany, when the deadly attacks took place outside and in the capital itself.

"I wanted to return for the first sporting event since those terrible attacks," Hollande said at half-time in a rugby match between France and Italy which kicked of the Six Nations tournament.

"Life must continue, we must put on events like this, not give anything up," the French leader stressed, while adding that security must at the same time be strengthened.

Elsewhere in the crowd, at the stadium just north of Paris, the atmosphere was determined, if cautious.

"Of course November 13 is running around a bit in our heads," said French fan Hadrien.

"But that mustn't stop us from living our lives. We're here above all to watch a game of rugby," he added.

Christophe, french tricolor in hand, and his seven-year-old son had travelled to the match from Burgundy to the south.

As he took pictures outside the stadium he said "we can't just think about that (the attacks). We have to live."

Hollande also voiced confidence for the Euro 2016 football tournament which France will host in June and July.

"It will be a great celebration of football, while at the same very secure," he assured.

France is still in a state of emergency following the attacks across the French capital, which began on November 13 when three men wearing suicide vests detonated their explosives outside the stadium as the France-Germany friendly match was underway.

They killed themselves and a bystander and sparked panic inside the stadium from where Hollande was hastily evacuated.

With France still under repeated threats from the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, the authorities were determined to avoid any repetition of that night.

Public transport was under heavy surveillance and the security cordon around the Stade de France enlarged, with gates 100 metres (yards) from the entrances to the stadium itself.

The gates opened two hours before the 1425 GMT kickoff and spectators were urged to arrive early as they were to be searched twice, with authorities seeking to avoid any bottlenecks which would cause large groups to gather outside the stadium.

In the end it was a happy sporting return for France as the national rugby union side beat Italy 23-21 in a closely fought encounter.