May 22, 12:36 PM EDT

Eiffel Tower closed for hours; Workers angry over increasingly aggressive pickpockets, crime


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AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere

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PARIS (AP) -- The Eiffel Tower closed to the public for most of the day Friday as workers protested a rise in aggressive pickpockets around the Paris landmark that attracts thousands of visitors daily.

The walkout came a day after Paris authorities announced that crime against tourists in the French capital had dropped this year thanks to reinforced police presence and video surveillance.

The tower didn't open Friday morning because the staff was concerned about petty crime around the site. Clusters of tourists streamed beneath the tower, unable to reach its viewing platforms.

It remained closed while staff and management held meetings about security measures, then reopened in the late afternoon, according to the company that manages the site. The tower is normally open every day of the year, but sometimes closes briefly for bomb threats or strikes.

Tower employee Denis Vavassori of the CGT union said the workers want a permanent police presence.

"It is a growing problem. There were always pickpockets at the Eiffel Tower but now we are really facing an organized group," he told The Associated Press.

Police officers patrolled the area Friday on bikes, on foot and in cars.

"Unfortunately there are here people who assault and try to steal. So we do feel less free, and lose the opportunity to visit this beautiful monument," said tourist Francisco Madeira of Sao Paulo, Brazil, who visited the site before the tower reopened. "There should be more organization and police."

Workers at the Louvre Museum staged a similar walkout in 2012.

Paris authorities said Thursday violent theft was down 25 percent and pickpocketing was down 23 percent in the first four months of 2015, compared with the same period last year. City authorities have also broken up several major theft networks, according to Prosecutor Francois Molins, who visited the Champs-Elysees tourist district Thursday to show how seriously police are taking crime against visitors.

Paris has also heightened security since January terror attacks in Paris left 20 dead, including three attackers.

The French capital is still attracting big crowds, however.

Dave Kleps from Old Forge, New York, said his Paris experience hasn't been overshadowed by crime.

"We've been here two days and I haven't felt unsafe," he said, speaking beneath the Eiffel Tower. "We are a little bit disappointed that it's closed."

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Angela Charlton contributed to this report.

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