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Government slams striking unions on eve of Euro '16

June 9, 2016

Paralysis looms as France gears up to host a month-long soccer tournament expected to draw 2 million foreign visitors. Train service is patchy and garbage is piling up in the streets as security concerns loom.

Masked youths hurl projectiles at police during a demonstration against a French labor law amendment.
Image: Reuters/P. Wojazer

France's socialist government is calling on the country's labor unions to abandon their "guerrilla" tactics that threaten to wreak havoc on the Euro 2016 soccer tournament that begins Friday night.

Striking railway workers, garbage collectors and airline pilots all appear ready to grind the country to a halt and let the garbage pile-up just as two million visitors are expected to descend on the country for the month-long tournament.

Environment Minister Segolene Royal said the strikes are creating a "mess" that is threatening to ruin the tournament for all of the visitors, and the French themselves.

"People want things to return to normal, for the mess to end," Royal told iTele, saying it was "not right for a modern country to continue being permanently disrupted."

Garbage piles up in France ahead of Euro 2016

The strikes have severely disrupted regional and commuter trains, and have caused garbage to pile up on the streets of Paris and Marseille.

Officials are not only concerned about the chaos that could be unleashed with millions of visitors struggling to attend a soccer game, or related event, but they also fear their bid for the 2024 Olympics will be further imperiled if chaos prevails during the soccer tournament.

"France's pride is at stake," Royal said. "Let's not harm France's capacity to organize global events."

Chronically high unemployment

The unions are demanding the government withdraw its labor reform bill, which would make it easier for employers to hire and fire workers. That, in turn, should lower the country's chronically high unemployment rate, which has never been over 10 percent the past three years, and has never been under 7 percent in the last 20 years.

Sports Minister Patrick Kanner accused the hardline CGT and Sud unions, which are demanding the withdrawal of a labor reform bill, of "guerrilla" tactics.

"They're spoiling the party," he said. "In spoiling the party, they're spoiling the image of France."

Even without the current strikes, the government has been working diligently to ensure the soccer tournament goes off without a hitch. The country remains under a state of emergency following the November terror attacks that killed at least 130 people in France.

Visitors and citizens alike can expect unprecedented security measures throughout the tournament. The government announced Thursday that outdoor screenings of the games are prohibited, except in designated areas.

Thierry Braillard, a minister of state for sports, said he didn't think the restrictions would ruin the fun of the games.

"It's organized so that everything is secure at the precise sites," Braillard said. "We cannot accept that there are non-organized gatherings because the security forces don't have the means to secure them."

bik/kms (AFP,dpa)