French prexy a go, ailing Culture Minister, no

CANNES — As the 50th Cannes Film Festival kicks off today under the season’s ever-changeable skies, questions about the participation of French politicos are being cleared up at the 11th hour.

A spokesman for French President Jacques Chirac confirmed that the Gallic leader will be jetting here for Sunday’s gala celebrations of the fest’s 50th birthday. But French Culture Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy will not be in Cannes for the opening of the fest today.

Culture ministry sources told Daily Variety that Douste-Blazy will not be fit enough to attend tonight’s opening ceremony, since he was stabbed last week while on the parliamentary election campaign trail. The minister is currently recovering in a Toulouse hospital and is expected to be out of action for at least two weeks.

Douste-Blazy, who has been an outspoken defender of French and European film and television, was knifed in the back while campaigning in Lourdes, where he is mayor. His attacker, a mentally unstable Albanian who had attempted a previous assault on Douste-Blazy in 1992, is being held in police custody.

Security at this year’s fest will be tighter than ever, thanks to the attack on the culture minister, Chirac’s fleeting visit to Cannes and the ongoing security clampdown in France connected to suspected Algerian terrorist attacks.

A fest source told Daily Variety, “With the bank holiday crowds and the president coming into town, there will be a very heavy police presence. We don’t want it to take away from the festival atmosphere, but clearly safety is of the greatest importance.”

Startled fest travelers got their first taste of the current security alert at Paris’ Orly airport on Monday.

Army personnel cleared part of the Orly Sud terminal after spotting an unattended package, which was later the subject of a controlled detonation. Fest and market attendees are being warned not to leave any unattended cases in the Palais des Festivals.

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