PARIS IS torn between the safe and the spectacular in the face of plans to plunge the Champs Elysees into darkness to heighten the sensation when its millennial New Year lights are switched on.

After a burst of fireworks from the Eiffel Tower, the famous avenue would come alive with glittering ferris wheels, trees wrapped up like Christmas presents with coloured lights inside and a flood of light bathing the Arc de Triomphe.

But those few minutes beforehand, with an estimated 1.5 million people milling about in darkness, would be the chance of the century for legions of pickpockets and other opportunist criminals.

The festival's organisers, presenting their plans to the press yesterday, were urged by their own artistic director to approve his idea. "We must turn off the lights," Patrick Bouchain insisted. "We want to make this the most beautiful city in the world."

Bernard Bled, the city official in charge of the Paris festivities, was not so sure. "There's no reason to imagine that everybody will be angels that day," he said.