PARIS (AFP) - A charity auction selling off "love locks" from Paris bridges to raise money for refugees on Saturday (May 13) brought in over US$270,000 (S$377,000), though the event was briefly interrupted by protests from far-right nationalists.
For years tourists inscribed their initials on padlocks and hooked them to the railings of bridges, most famously the Pont des Arts near the Louvre, throwing the key into the River Seine to express their undying devotion.
But officials cracked down on the practice and started removing the locks in 2015 after one section of the Pont des Arts collapsed under the weight of thousands of locks.
Hundreds of people took part in the auction at Credit Municipal de Paris in which 150 bunches of the locks - mounted on displays of wood or recycled paving stones, or hanging from acrylic stands - went under the hammer.
Fifteen sections of the original Pont des Arts railings mounted on wood were also auctioned.
Most of the lots had been expected to go for 150 (S$229) to 200 euros each but one set of locks fastened to a replica of the Eiffel Tower mounted on a display of recycled paving stone - called the "French Lover" - sold for 2,400 euros.
Another display with 22 locks went for 1,200 euros, one with 17 for 1,000.
But the most expensive piece - a section of the Pont des Arts railing that weighed 470 kilogrammes - sold for 17,000 euros.
Other sections of the bridge went for between 3,500 and 12,000 euros.
'A PIECE OF PARIS'
The auction raised a total of 249,610 euros, which will go to three associations helping to accommodate the influx of migrants into the city: Solipam, the Salvation Army and Emmaus Solidarite.
American tourist Francy Blackwood, on holiday in Paris with her husband, said she wanted to return with a "piece of Paris".
"We put our own lock on the bridge six years ago. It's not here, but it's such a great tradition we'd like to take some of it home with us," she said.
Parisian Gaelle Salaun shelled out 520 euros for one bunch of locks "because it had a Spanish name on it". She added: "I liked that. But I also participated in the auction for the refugees." A dozen young members of the French far-right youth group Generation Identitaire briefly interrupted the event in protest, chanting "Generation Identitaire" and "Money to Parisians, not to illegals".
They unveiled a banner with the same slogans before being forced from the hall.
The protest didn't deter Jerome Mellerio and his wife from buying four lots. "That the proceeds would go to civil society touched us," he said.
James Velaise spent 11,000 euros on a piece of the bridge, which he said would end up "in a garden on a farm in (the southern region of) Aveyron".
The tradition of lovers attaching locks to the city's bridges was initially seen as relatively harmless but became a menace later after the Pont des Arts incident in 2014.
It also turned into an eyesore for many residents.
The city began removing the locks in 2015 and replaced the metal railings on the Pont des Arts with acrylic glass panels to ward off the public displays of affection.
"It's wonderful," Emmaus Solidarite director general Bruno Morel said, reacting to the funds raised. "There's a lot of humanity."
Morel said his organisation would use the money to build children's play areas for its community centre in the southern Paris suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine.