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Paris Olympic Loss Deepens Chirac's Woes

Paris's loss to London is more than a blow to Gallic pride and ambition. It also further hurts the French president who faces record-low ratings, a sluggish economy and a bitter struggle with Britain over the EU.

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No rings for Paris

It was a bitter announcement for the French president Wednesday -- that long time rival, London beat his elegant capital in the race to host the 2012 Olympic Games. But it is actually only one more of a series of setbacks that together threaten ignominy for the 72-year-old president.

It marks the second time this year the head-of-state for the past decade -- who was Paris mayor from 1977 to 1995 -- has been embarrassed by staking his personal prestige on a big project and losing.

The first time was a May referendum in which French voters rejected his support of an EU constitution.

More and more headaches

Chirac und Blair

Not so cozy these days: Chirac and Blair

Since the referendum, his political fortunes have further tumbled. Public confidence in him has plummeted to the lowest point since he entered the Elysee Palace, and the left-wing French media have taken to portraying him as a "lame duck" conservative president who has little authority left to see out the two years remaining under his second mandate.

Despite making the fight against unemployment one of his top priorities, joblessness has hovered stubbornly around 10 percent on his watch, during which he has sacrificed prime ministers whenever public anger against his economic and labour reforms got too hot.

And for the past month, he has been locked in an acrimonious war of words with British Prime Minister Tony Blair over the EU budget and, more widely, the direction of the bloc, creating a sense of crisis.

Jeering British food

The triumph then of London over Paris as the Olympic host city must have been especially hard for Chirac. He learned of the news as he flew from Singapore to Scotland, where he was to take part in a G8 summit hosted by Blair.

Spezialbild: Jubelnde Fans in London, Austragungsort 2012

A sweet victory



The loss will add to ill-feeling generated in Britain by a report that Chirac disparaged British food in a rapid-fire series of jibes at a weekend summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

In France, where nine out of 10 French people polled by the CSA Institute just before the announcement declared they were behind the Paris bid, Chirac's weak popularity rating is likely to wilt further.

An economic leg up

The Olympics is of historic portent for Paris. A Frenchman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, in the late 19th century pushed to have the defunct ancient Greek Olympic Games revived as the modern version held today. The new Games have been held twice in Paris, in 1900 and in 1924.

But -- more importantly for Chirac -- it would also have been a desperately needed economic leg-up.

Panoramabild: IOC Paris 2012

And a bitter loss for the French



According to an association of 20 big French companies behind the Paris bid and a study by the Boston Consulting Group, the Games would have added $35 billion (29 billion euros) to France's gross domestic product over the seven years following. They would also have created 60,000 jobs, most of them in the building, sport, tourism and service sectors.

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