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France starts temporary visa ban on certain countries to prevent terror attacks

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Several French officials promised that they would never be considered, in any way, for hosting extremist attacks again.

So after two coordinated attacks from March 22, and one from Oct. 31 of last year, it was no surprise when France announced Wednesday that it would begin temporarily preventing all citizens from traveling to the United States, Greece, Serbia, and Turkey.

It is the first country to do so, although in August, England and Belgium both temporarily banned certain forms of electronic travel documents. The countries made no mention of the ban on passports, but are likely to follow the lead of the United States.

“We are determined to act in the face of the terrorist threat, both by banning travel from countries that are regularly the recipients of terrorist attacks or by acting to ban entire countries,” French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said in a statement, according to AFP. “With the strong stance that has been adopted today, our interior minister, security services and I intend to definitively destroy the franc of threats.”

In a second statement to the press, Collomb said he was “determined to treat terrorism as the criminal event it is. The intelligence services and the police system of the Interior Ministry have been put on high alert, as have all the judicial authorities that work in these regions.”

The crisis will last until the end of June, and will see a complete ban on passports from the four countries, which together attract about 2 million French tourists every year. Already, the government has already sent out orders for border control agents to be on the lookout for any visitors of the banned countries.

A third government statement listed the four countries on a list of “reciprocal measures” against terror-related measures, calling them “vile and intolerable behaviors that have brought France, in a global context, to these terms.”

Following the attacks in Paris in 2015, France banned large numbers of citizens from traveling to Iraq and Syria for all but family reunification, or to receive humanitarian aid. Many citizens avoided going to the Middle East, while others simply ignored the ban.

President Emmanuel Macron’s tone on Islamist terrorism was markedly different from that of the former president, François Hollande, who said in February that France was experiencing a phase of permanent civil war. Hollande said that even if France would never see another attack on the scale of the one in November of 2015, it would become possible if policy stayed the same.

But new French policies have come under sharp scrutiny. During his presidential campaign, Macron said he wanted to ban extremists from places of worship and impose the face-covering veil, known as the burqa, in schools. He has since spoken less about these proposals.

E.J. Dionne, Jr., a columnist and essayist, wrote in the Washington Post in January that Macron’s avowedly non-neo-libertarian foreign policy, in Syria and elsewhere, was the antithesis of what French society should be in light of its history of political persecution.

“In Syria, Macron is putting British inelegance — and Tory brinkmanship — to a good account,” he wrote. “In Libya, Macron is more muted, belatedly pledging to make a public statement, against brutal Libyan dictators.”

During Wednesday’s news conference, Collomb dismissed claims that the visa ban was spurred by any tensions between France and some of the countries being punished.

This “is not a problem with the United States, the U.K., China, Spain or Japan,” he said.

The measure is unlikely to significantly affect tourism in the affected countries, as around 4 million of the 5 million visitors coming to the U.S. travel through airports or airports in France. As for the other countries, the ban would have a negligible impact — only about 30,000 visitors to Serbia visit every year.

Many commentators were more focused on the broader message. France has been facing criticism from European neighbors, such as Germany, over its approach to terrorism, after more than 190 people have been killed in attacks since 2015.

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