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French police block Facebook party

Paris cocktail party has fewer revelers, less booze, than viral gatherings in Montpellier and Nantes.

PARIS, France — It was the giant cocktail party that wasn’t. Police barricades and bag checks greeted revelers arriving at what was supposed to be France's largest boozy Facebook gathering to date. 

With lovers canoodling, families enjoying picnics and musicians beating bongo drums and strumming guitars, the Champs de Mars, the wide expanse of green situated at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and designated as the rendezvous point for throngs of merrymakers, had an ambiance of calm. The most notable difference from other sunny Sundays was the absence of wine bottles and corkscrews. Fruit juice and soft drinks ruled the day.

The calm was a marked contrast to recent parties in which invitations spread virally on the social networking site Facebook. Earlier this month a party in the southern city of Montpelier drew an estimated 11,000 revelers. At another gathering of more than 10,000 people in the western city Nantes, a 21-year-old man died after falling from a bridge, drunk. 

Paris authorities did not ban the gathering outright, but officials issued warnings that the aperitif, or cocktail party, advertised on Facebook was “ill-advised.” As the date approached, the police created their own Facebook page to disseminate warnings like: “Alcohol is prohibited at all times on the Champ de Mars, a 'giant cocktail party' can not happen on the evening of Sunday, May 23.” 

Signs posted at subway exits near the meeting spot Sunday reiterated those warnings. Metal barricades were erected and police were stationed at entry points into the grassy area, including at the top of the smallest side streets. Officers searched the bags of people entering the field for alcohol.

"Someone died after all,” said one officer. “Before, we allowed people to live, if you will,” he said with a shrug, struggling to find the words to describe the contrast between an earlier time when open containers at the popular picnic venue went largely ignored and the new order of the day. 

While the dissuasion tactics of the police and city officials largely worked, some like Pierre de Saintmarc and Carl de Cherisey, decided to try their luck anyway, smuggling in a bottle of whisky “to see what would happen.”

Officers checked their bag, smelled the contents, escorted the pair to a garbage bin and asked them to pour the liquid out into the sand.

“They were very polite about it,” said de Saintmarc, a 20-year-old student who lives in the neighborhood. He almost seemed to feel sorry for them. He happened to be in Rennes a few weeks ago when about 4,000 people gathered for a cocktail party there. “It was packed,” he said. “The police do not have the means.”