The arrival of Saudi Arabia's King Salman and his vast entourage for a three-week holiday in the south of France, a boon for local businesses, has outraged residents and prompted a petition signed by 100,000 people nationwide angered by the closure of a beach in front of his villa.
Two Saudi Arabian Airlines Boeing 747s flew 1,000 guests and staff to Nice Airport last Saturday, leading to the reservation of hundreds of hotel rooms, cars and drivers.
But it was the way the normally reclusive King Salman, 79, planned to entertain his guests - by closing off the beach below his 19th-century house in the Cote d'Azur resort of Vallauris, near Cannes - that made the headlines.
Residents of Vallauris were first alerted to the closure plans when building of a concrete platform for an elevator link from the villa to the beach began on July 13.
Police later closed off the area, including access by sea, for reported security reasons, prompting a protest to President Francois Hollande from the local mayor and the petition on the change.org website.
Private beaches are common in the south of France. Big hotels, for example, have direct access to adjoining beaches.
But under a 2006 law regulating their use, this amounts to a concession by the state, not a right to ownership. Hotels and other users are committed to clean and maintain the beaches and to provide permanent public access under explicit conditions, a clause that Vallauris locals say has not been respected in the Saudi case.
"We recall that this natural zone, like all maritime public estates, is an intrinsic public property that should be available for the benefit of all, residents, tourists, French, foreigners or people passing through," the petitioners said. "We ask the state to guarantee the fundamental principle of the equality of all citizens before the law."
Whatever the public reaction to King Salman's visit, businesses in nearby Cannes welcomed the influx of rich guests. Hotels reported that the Saudi Embassy in Paris had booked 400 rooms in the city, with hundreds more reserved privately.
"Clearly, this is good news," Mr Michel Chevillon, president of a hotels association in Cannes, told Agence France-Presse.
The villa has a long history of attracting the rich and famous.
Originally called the Chateau de l'Horizon, the modernist villa was built in 1932 for the American actor Maxine Elliott, a friend of Winston Churchill and his mother, The Guardian reported.
Churchill was a regular guest between 1934 and 1940 as well as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, David Lloyd George, Noel Coward, Elizabeth Taylor and members of the Kennedy family, The Guardian said.
Prince Aly Khan of Pakistan bought it in 1948 and later celebrated his marriage to American actress Rita Hayworth at the villa.
King Fahd bought the villa in 1979, while he was heir to the Saudi throne, and it is used by Saudi royals as a summer retreat.
This article was first published on June 27, 2015.
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