- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2001

PARIS (UPI) Paris may be the world's top tourist destination, but it is not for everyone, especially if they are Chinese; Beijing has warned its citizens to avoid visiting the French capital for fear of falling victim to pickpockets and other petty criminals.
The advice follows a rash of thefts reportedly targeting cash-carrying Chinese tourists, along with a holdup last week of a Chinese business on the Left Bank.
The news has not been well received by France's foreign ministry, which labeled the Chinese warnings as "astonishing."
"The allegations that you refer to appear to us excessive and, in any case, unique" to China, a ministry spokesman told reporters last week.
But new French interior ministry statistics appear to bolster the Chinese anxiety, revealing a 10 percent increase in crime across France since January.
Rising crime in rural areas accounted for much of the increase. But, not surprisingly, most offenses remained centered in Paris and other large cities.
"Delinquency is increasingly taking on a violent nature," Jean-Marie Petitclerc, a priest who works with troubled youths, told Le Figaro newspaper. "It is becoming symbolic, gratuitous, and increasingly marked by criminal behavior on the part of youths."
In Paris, armed robbery and other public offenses dropped 6.2 percent in 2000, compared with the previous year, according to the government of Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, but financial crime, such as credit-card fraud, jumped 22 percent.
And in the city's subway system, announcers warn tourists in broken English to be careful of "peekpockets."
But an unscientific sampling of half a dozen tourists found many unconcerned. That included Warsaw resident Pavo Januczowski, who took a break from his sightseeing itinerary near the Eiffel Tower one cloudy afternoon.
"The problems in Warsaw are much worse than in Paris," Mr. Januczowski, 18, declared. "You can easily be robbed there.
"You can just be stopped by a group of young people who say, 'Give me your money, give me your watch, give me your mobile [phone].' Here, you can say, we feel safe."

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