Tensions high as world leaders arrive at Climate Change conference in Paris
PARIS, France (CNN) — World leaders arrived in Paris on Sunday for potentially historic climate talks that will play out amid security concerns driven by the November 13 terror attacks in France.
Frustrations over restrictions on protests put in place following the attacks gave rise to what French President Francois Hollande called “scandalous” scuffles between protesters and police at the Place de Republique, the site of a memorial to victims.
French authorities have clamped down on public demonstrations in the aftermath of the deadly attacks, blocking environmental campaigners’ plans for a big march on Sunday.
Police arrested more than 200 people Sunday following flare-ups in which protesters pelted police with shoes, bottles and even candles police said were taken from memorials.
Riot police responded with tear gas.
Hollande said authorities knew “troubling elements” would arrive in Paris for the talks, and said that was why “these sorts of assemblies were banned and some were ordered to stay home.”
Paris Police Chief Michel Cadot said taking the candles and using them against police showed “an extreme lack of respect to those events.”
Despite those tensions, demonstrators were largely peaceful ahead of the crucial climate change session. In place of the big march, protesters lined up thousands of shoes representing climate change activists.
The talks will begin in earnest on Monday. Nearly 150 world leaders are expected attend the United Nations climate change summit, called with the aim of reaching a landmark global deal on limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
The leaders of the United States, China and India — the world’s top three carbon-emitting countries — are among those scheduled to attend the opening day of the event, known as COP21.
Obama to meet Chinese President
French President Francois Hollande was to meet with several world leaders Sunday ahead of the start of the two-week conference, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Ban’s office released a statement praising Hollande and France for going ahead with the meeting despite the attack. He said he and the French President had agreed that “failure to reach an agreement was not an option and would have disastrous consequences.”
U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Paris late Sunday and is expected to meet with Xi the following morning.
“Clearly, U.S. cooperation with China is absolutely essential to successful efforts to combat climate change,” White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said in a briefing last week. “I think the two leaders meeting at the beginning of this process, as the two largest emitters, sends a strong message to the world about their shared commitment to combat climate change and to achieve an ambitious agreement.”
More than 40,000 delegates from 195 countries are attending COP21, which has the goal of achieving a legally binding agreement to keep global warming below what most scientists say is the critical threshold of 2 degrees Celsius of warming.
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