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Following Air France humiliation, leaders rush to company's side

French officials have condemned the violent protest that broke out at a company board meeting. While paying a visit to the headquarters, the prime minister had strong words for both the company and its detractors.

Images of a bare-chested Air France manager, his shirt torn off by angry protesters during the storming of an executive board meeting on Monday, caused a furor when they went viral - not least among the country's top leaders.

The incident occurred as board members were planning to discuss nearly 3,000 job cuts to the struggling airline company, which is 17.58 percent owned by the French government. Hundreds of protesters crashed the meeting, tearing at the executives' clothes and forcing them to flee in horror.

French officials responded soon afterward.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who had been in Japan only a day earlier, visited the embattled airline's headquarters on Tuesday, where he told employees that "all of France is in shock" because of what happened.

"The government, the state, supports Air France, which has been tackling major challenges," said Valls. "This revelation should force everyone to accept that efforts are necessary and that we can't stick with the status quo."

French President Francois Hollande also chimed in.

"Social dialogue matters, and when it's interrupted by the violence and disputes take on an unacceptable form, it can have consequences for the image and attractiveness" of the country, he said.

Like Hollande, Transport Minister Alain Vidalies expressed concern that photos from the Air France protest could negatively impact the country's international image.

"I think the best French response would be to respond to those abroad who see a caricature, that these events are not France, and that we can get back on track by talking," he said.

Air France has launched a legal complaint over the incident, according to Reuters news agency.

blc/se (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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