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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 10:06 GMT
Paris wheel row rolls on
La Grand Roue
The wheel was erected to celebrate the millennium
A dispute over the future of Paris' millennium wheel appears to be deadlocked after a park refused to become the final venue for the attraction.

The owner of La Grande Roue has defied a court ruling ordering him to move the 60-metre (195-foot) high structure and is seeking to keep it where it is.

The wheel arrived a couple of weeks before millennium night, without any fuss or hype.

Marcel Campion (left)
Mr Campion, the wheel's champion
A greater contrast to the frantic debate and controversy surrounding the London Eye would be hard to imagine.

But if the wheel's ascension was a triumph of French engineering and organisation, its subsequent history has descended into farce.

It should have been simple.

Under the original deal - signed with the Paris town hall - the wheel was due to stay on the Place de la Concorde throughout 2000 and then be moved to another permanent site, which the city authorities would find.

But that did not take into account the tenacity of its owner, a former clown called Marcel Campion.

Campaign launched

A Corsican with friends in high places, Mr Campion is the self-styled champion of France's traditional fairground entertainers, the forains.

Bertrand Delanoe, Mayor of Paris
The mayor of Paris has sought a compromise

He is also what you might call a persuasive king of spin, who has put up wheels all over France, but proved reluctant to take them down.

True to form, as the end of the Paris wheel's lease approached, he launched a "save the wheel" campaign, backed by such eminent figures as the Gallic Elvis, Johnny Hallyday, and France's World Cup-winning football captain, Didier Deschamps.

It worked.

The town hall was too busy preparing for forthcoming elections and rather than put up a fight, it backed down and left the wheel in its prime tourist location for another year.

But last spring, things changed.

Change of tactics

The Paris town hall is no longer run by Mr Campion's Gaullist friends and the new, Socialist team was insistent that the wheel should move by 7 January.

As the new deadline approached, Mr Campion turned into a born-again philanthropist to save himself.

Last month, some of the wheel's profits went to Aids charities, while, as New Year dawned, he announced that cancer charities would be the next to benefit.

A huge blue sign appeared on the wheel - "2002, the big wheel against cancer".

Legal action

But none of this impressed the courts, who were asked to rule after the 7 January deadline came and went.

Last Friday a judge decided that, if the wheel did not come down, M Campion would have to pay a daily fine of 15,000 euros.

Jean-Marie Le Pen
M Campion enlisted the support of Jean-Marie Le Pen

But even this has not deterred him.

He immediately lodged an appeal and refused to budge.

Spurred on by the backing of such figures, as the far right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, he spent Sunday giving free rides to anyone who wanted them.

On Tuesday, Mr Campion had his first meeting with the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, who was expected to suggest that the Parc de la Villette in north-east of the city could become a permanent site for the wheel.

But even this is no guarantee that this French farce is coming to an end.

The President of the Parc de la Villette has now announced that as far as he is concerned, there is no room in his park for the wheel.

See also:

11 Jan 02 | Europe
Last spin for Paris big wheel
08 Jan 02 | Europe
Paris in a spin over big wheel
01 Jan 00 | Europe
Pageantry on the Champs Elysees
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