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France prepares for end-of-year celebrations amid tightened security

media Christmas lights illuminate the rue Royale in front of the Place de la Concorde, the Luxor Obelisk, the National Assembly and the Dome des Invalides as part of illuminations for the Christmas season in Paris, France, December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

With end of year celebrations starting this weekend, the Ministry of the Interior has said there will be 140,000 security and military personal deployed around France to counter any terrorist threats.

Just like New Year's Eve at the end of 2016, which was marked by the attack in Nice (86 dead and more than 450 wounded) and the murder of a priest in north western France, France will celebrate the passage to the New Year under heavy surveillance.

Security efforts are concentrated in the Paris region, where street parties are traditionally take place around the city like that due to take place on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, which is expecting to see 300,000 celebrating overnight.

"The terrorist context remains high," said the prefect of police in Paris, Michel Delpuech.

A 21-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman, with no apparent link but who each planned to commit an attack, were arrested last week, respectively near Lyon (center-east) and in the Paris region.

The man was planning to attack the military and the woman planned to act in the province, according to a source familiar with the matter. Both were detained.

“These two arrests illustrate the reality of a "diffuse threat, endogenous with individuals who are likely to act (...) with rustic means but nevertheless dangerous," said Michel Delpuech.

"We are focused on the domestic threat, especially at the end of the year.”

For the anti-terrorist investigators, 2017 was marked by waves of arrests in the pro-jihad circles, by a series of aborted attacks but also by two deadly attacks: the assassination of a policeman on the Champs-Elysées in April and the knife attack of two cousins in October in Marseille (southeast).

Both attacks were claimed by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.

"The level of the threat, the will to strike has not weakened. There are dozens of threats that are regularly posted" on social networks, says Jean-Charles Brisard, president of the Center for Terrorism Analysis (CAT).

After more than two years of emergency rule, introduced in the wake of the attacks of 13 November 2015 (130 dead), a new anti-terrorism law vilified by the defenders of civil liberties was also adopted in October.

Since January 2015, the wave of unprecedented attacks in France has killed 241 people.

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