Europe

The Cote d'Azur on the edge after attacks

Beach in St Tropez
Image caption The St Tropez beach looks as idyllic, but people are worried about their safety

Tourists see the resorts of the Cote d'Azur as a paradise, but the Bastille Day attack in Nice has left residents nervous about security.

"Keep hold of my hand!" shouts a harassed man at his little daughter as she runs enthusiastically towards the kaleidoscope of colours exploding in the sky over Frejus port, trailing a toy rabbit by its ears.

"What did I tell you about holding Daddy's hand at the fireworks?" He sees me looking at him, and shakes his head.

"You can't help being nervous, you know?" he says. "In crowds like this, even with the police presence, you can't help thinking..."

There is a reasonably healthy turnout at the port for the firework display, but everyone is a little on edge.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Bastille Day attack in Nice has shaken the region

The National Front (FN) Mayor of Frejus, David Rachline has upped security spending since the Nice attack - concrete bollards block vehicles from entering certain public areas, there are extra officers patrolling the streets, there are more CCTV cameras.

"There are even soldiers on some of the beaches," says one man pushing his toddler in a buggy.

"That is a first, and it is startling."

Nice is only 65km (40 miles) from the quaint little town of Frejus, and the impact of the 14 July attack there is very much being felt along the entire length of this seaside stretch of France.

"For the first time in my life, I'm going to vote Front National," one local man tells me as he waits on some steps for family members to catch him up after the fireworks.

"We've been attacked too many times now, and I think the FN is the only solution, extreme though it is, unfortunately.

"No other party is tough enough with Islamist extremists."

The geographical position of the Provence Alpes Cote d'Azur region, facing North Africa just across the Mediterranean, has made it a natural far-right stronghold.

A large proportion of the white population is descended from the "pieds noirs", the French colonists expelled from Algeria in the early 1960s who arrived in France with a "fear of Arabs", says Nonna Meyer, of Sciences-Po, formerly Paris Institute of Political Studies.

And since the attack in Nice, there has been an increase in the number of people looking at the FN websites and signing up as party members.

"Terrorist attacks," Ms Meyer says, "are very good for a party like the FN and for its leader, Marine le Pen.

"She has been saying for years that we have too many refugees, too many immigrants and she has been linking them to Islamist fundamentalism and saying they are a reservoir for potential attacks.

"So, now, she says, 'The right was in office, the left was in office, and what did they do? Nothing. Come to us. It is time to try the FN.'"

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mayor David Rachline - the Front National took control of Frejus Town Hall in 2014

On his wide desk, in his large office, the young FN Mayor and senator, Mr Rachline, has a poster of and a book about Johnny Hallyday.

It was a real coup for Mr Rachline to persuade France's ageing but incredibly popular rocker to play a gig at his little seaside town last month - not least because Hallyday has long been a close supporter of Nicolas Sarkozy, party leader of the right-wing Republicans.

"Of course, we have had a little drop in tourism this season," Mr Rachline tells me, as we settle into leather chairs and I mention that some of the beaches along the coast do not seem as packed as usual in high summer.

"But then nearly 300 French citizens have been killed in just a few months.

"Naturally, we have seen a lot more interest in the FN locally because of the security fears.

"OK, I have stepped up some measures here in Frejus, but it is up to the state to introduce proper security measures, like clamping down on Salafism and closing radical mosques.

"But the interior minister is just letting it all happen - he is not doing his job.

!We need to hit this problem at its base - the great tide of immigrants and refugees - that is the real problem."

I remind him that those responsible for the recent attacks in France were French.

"French on paper," he replies. "And perhaps today we are offering nationality to those who do not deserve it."

On a bench in front of Mr Rachline's town hall, four Muslim women sit watching me work. They can guess why I am here.

"Just because we are Muslims, it does not mean we are not crying with you, crying with the French," one head-scarfed older lady tells me sadly.

"The people who commit these crimes are monsters, not Muslims.

"But you know, dear," she says, catching my hand, "everyone of us must do his best to carry on living through these times."

She nods to the restaurant-heavy square in front of us, where little children twirl and dance in front of the live band.

Image caption More police officers are now patrolling the streets in Frejus

"You go now and have a lovely evening."

The band's singer seems uncertain as to how he might best please his audience and flits frenetically between crooning French chanson numbers and lively American pop.

The right-wing Republicans (LR) have a similar dilemma in finding an appealing voice to present at next year's presidential elections.

In 2007, moving further to the right and focusing on security issues hot on the heels of the 2005 riots won Mr Sarkozy the election.

But a similar approach this time could see the LR simply drowned out by the stronger voice of the FN.

And few people like the cover track as much as the original.

"It's true that the FN is gaining ground a little here - but it's not true that Nicolas Sarkozy imitates the Front National, we have concrete proposals," says Jeremy Campofranco, who leads the young Republicans group in the Var region.

"Security is a problem for all of us, and we can't just let that subject belong to the FN."

This November, the LR will be holding primaries to choose its presidential candidate.

The two frontrunners are the pugilistic Mr Sarkozy and the former French Prime Minister and more harmonising figure Alain Juppe, whose popularity extends beyond the right.

Mr Campofranco will not say which candidate he will be backing but warns that whoever the winner is, everyone will need to unite behind him.

"So that we don't leave the door open to the extreme right," he says, raising his eyebrows at me and smiling wryly.

The seaside borders of Frejus bleed into neighbouring St Raphael, and it is from there I board a boat to St Tropez - that cosmopolitan, glitzy playground of the rich and famous where, nonetheless, 48% of the town voted FN in last December's regional elections.

I turn when I hear a local family seated behind me discussing politics.

Image caption Some members of the Melchior family are thinking of voting for the Front National

Mrs Melchior tells me she will happily vote for Ms Le Pen because it is time someone was tougher on crime.

"She will not be able to do everything she wants, like closing the borders or leaving the euro," she says, waving her hand dismissively.

"But when she is elected, she will give us a safer life."

The younger members of the family begin to argue.

One family member admits he is also tempted to vote FN for the first time, in the wake of the attacks.

And a female family member scowls at him.

"Security is the most important thing now," she tells him.

"But we should not vote for a president just thinking about security."

Back in Paris, Prof Meyer remains convinced the FN is only a first-round party and that if, as is now expected, Ms Le Pen should be in the second round of the presidential elections, a cross-party alliance will form to block her from taking the Elysee.

"But in politics we have to be careful," she says.

"If you look at what happens in the aftermath of attacks, it is fear and anger.

"And if there are more attacks, we do not know what will happen."

You can hear Emma Jane Kirby's report for the PM programme on the BBC Radio 4 website.

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