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Paris On Alert As World Leaders Gather For Climate Conference

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Paris is under heavy security restrictions this morning as the two-week conference on climate change opens with speeches from heads of state, including President Barack Obama. French officials say that more than 300 people are in custody after a violent minority sparked weekend clashes with police at a main Paris square. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Paris. Good morning, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: It's just over two weeks since Paris suffered a devastating terrorist attack. And now the city is full of official motorcades, environmental activists, all kinds of police. How are people coping?

KENYON: Well, the advice has been stay off the streets on this busy morning. And a lot of people seem to be heeding the advice so far, especially north of Paris where the climate conference is starting. There's 3,000 armed police on duty and the main motorway is closed. The public transit seems to be free all day today, but people are being told not to use that either. And the police everywhere in the city are on high alert. They carried out mass arrests yesterday. The main square is the Place de la Republique. I was down there. There was a peaceful human chain that seemed to go all fine promoting the climate change issues. But then a little bit later I was talking to people, and a small group started moving toward the police. They were lighting flares, started throwing things, and then the next thing you know, teargas is flying. Here's a little bit of what it sounded like.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

KENYON: The crowd scattered, but then they came back later. Eventually, the police had to do this several times before loading buses full of activists, carting them off. And that went on into the evening.

WERTHEIMER: Why was the police response to aggressive, with all that great big bangs we heard?

KENYON: Well, I think it could've been a message that Paris authorities have a very low tolerance for agitation. It could be a sign of a city on edge. But I think it also had to do a lot with where it happened. Place de la Republique is ground zero for tributes to those people killed in the terror attacks earlier this month. And French people were offended to see activists grabbing the candles that had been left and throwing them at police. The interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, even mentioned that when he announced the arrest later in the day. Here's a bit of his remarks.

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INTERIOR MINISTER BERNARD CAZENEUVE: (Speaking French).

KENYON: He said he didn't blame the majority of environmentalists who were acting peacefully to get their message out. But he said anything like throwing these candles or disturbing the memory of those from the terror attacks would not be tolerated.

WERTHEIMER: So while all this is happening, French investigators are still trying to pursue those responsible for the terrible attacks on November 13 that left 130 people dead. How is that going?

KENYON: Well, that is continuing. It's been a bit drowned out, but there are reports that a number of detonators were sold at a store outside Paris to one of the attackers, a man still at large known as Salah Abdeslam. And not officially confirmed yet, but that seems to be one direction the investigation is heading. And the hunt for him goes on and at least one other man that he associated with just before the attacks. So that's continuing, and France's state of emergency is continuing for several more weeks.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Peter Kenyon reporting from Paris. Peter, thank you.

KENYON: Thanks, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.