Third World corruption cited
The Champs Elysees, held up by France as the most beautiful avenue in the world, has become blighted by prostitution, racketeering and violence, a top police officer said on Saturday.
The broad boulevard, which connects Napoleon's grandiose Arc de Triomphe with the regal Tuileries Gardens, was always a byword for elegance and a focal point for national celebrations.
But in recent years, the avenue has increasingly drawn low-life criminals, its famed cinemas giving way to night clubs, and its tourists frightened away by gangs of drunken youths.
"It's no longer the nice child it used to be," Guy Parent, head of Paris's anti-prostitution unit, told Le Parisien daily.
"The Champ Elysees' clientele is often unstable ... there are regularly fights between guards and clubbers. The tension is palpable," Parent added.
Le Parisien also quoted the mayor in charge of the Champs Elysees district, Francois Lebel, as saying the famous road was becoming: "A meeting place for thugs and suburb-dwellers."
Locals have complained that large groups of youths from poor neighborhoods bordering Paris descend on the avenue in the evening, drawn to its vibrant nightlife.
They also estimated that an army of 200 to 300 prostitutes pace the pavements seeking wealthy clients.
Parent said he thought that number might be exaggerated, but confirmed the 2-km (one mile) long street attracted many foreign call girls, especially from north Africa.