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Paris hosts car-free day -- just before major motor show
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PARIS (AFP) - One of the biggest motor shows in the world is set to take place in Paris this week -- but not before the city makes another display of its crusade against the car that it hopes will transform the capital into a haven for pedestrians and cyclists.
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The French capital is on Wednesday to host the annual car-free day it launched six years ago and which is now copied by 1,100 other cities, most of them in Europe.
But then, just three days later, starting Saturday, the Paris International Motor Show is to open its doors, attracting one and a half million visitors over the following two weeks.
The juxtaposition of events highlights the love-hate relationship with cars that has taken hold of the French capital.
The left-wing municipal council has all but declared war on private four-wheeled transport by laying down road-hogging bus lanes and cycle paths, expanding plans for a tramway and paving over thousands of parking spaces.
It has also expressed a wish to see bulky four-wheel drive vehicles favoured by wealthier residents banned entirely from city streets.
But the conservative national government under President Jacques Chirac has provided little support.
As a result, the car-free day introduced in 1998 by the then-Socialist government is in decline. In 2002, 98 French cities and towns participated. Last year, it was 72. This year, there will only be 50.
The organisers say that is because September 22 falls in the middle of the week, posing a problem for authorities trying to balance economic and transport necessities and raising the possibility that the day might be moved to a Sunday from next year.
Some of those that are taking part this year are offering free public transport on the day.
Many other European cities, including London, Madrid and Stockholm will be following suit in banning cars from streets, but Rome and Berlin will not.
Farther afield the initiative has proved a bust. Only Montreal in Canada, 17 Brazilian towns and cities, a handful of Japanese cities and Taipei have joined what was once hoped would become a worldwide experiment in urban living without the omnipresent car.
"The initiative is seeing a certain ebb," French Environment Minister Serge Lepeltier told journalists last week.
That prompted the Paris municipal official in charge of city transport, Denis Baupin, to decry a "disengagement by the state" that he said could put an end to the annual event altogether.
Come the weekend, the whole debate is likely to be largely forgotten though, when the Paris Motor Show grabs headlines with its flashy series of concept cars and innovative grandstanding.
More than 60 new models are to be unveiled during the two-week exhibition, during which 480 manufacturers from 26 countries show off their latest goods.
This year, though, the emphasis is likely to be less on the extravagantly powerful and luxurious vehicles -- although they will still provide the glamour quotient -- than on the generally depressed state of car sales almost everywhere and the effect the sky-high price of oil is having on the industry.
Chirac, who is to officially open the show, is said to be ready to highlight "clean" cars, such as a model Citroen is bringing out and hybrid vehicles from Toyota as his contribution to acknowledging the pollution problem caused by current private transport.Story Tools
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