France Enjoys 'Smooth' Start To Anxious Euro 2016

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Saturday, 11 June 2016 10:58 Written by AFP


French President Francois Hollande hailed a smooth start to Euro 2016 on Friday as the transport strikes failed to disrupt a winning start for the anxious host nation.

More than 80,000 fans endured stringent security to attend the opening match between France and Romania at the Stade de France, which was targeted by suicide bombers in the jihadist attacks across Paris on November 13.

But supporters were in good spirits after weeks of industrial unrest and fears of attacks that overshadowed the buildup to the month-long tournament.

The packed stadium erupted with delight and fans watching in bars around the city cheered when Dmitri Payet gave the host nation the perfect start with a stunning 25-metre goal to grab a last-gasp 2-1 victory.

But with security concerns running high, trouble flared in the southern city of Marseille, where England fans clashed with police for a second night, leaving the streets of the city's port area littered with broken bottles and with the whiff of teargas in the air.

The European championship has landed in a glum France hit by a series of woes: terror attacks, floods, political turmoil and strikes.

But Hollande, whose warning to unions not to disrupt the tournament met with a combative response Friday, hailed the "smooth" start.

"Everyone followed the rules," and submitted to security checks, said Hollande, wearing a scarf in the national colours of red, white and blue.

All scheduled trains operated to ferry fans to the stadium, the president noted, despite a 10-day train strike that has severely disrupted France.

Hollande said France needs the championships to be "a sporting success" but also "a big event for the people".

However, the Paris fan zone at the foot of the Eiffel Tower was only half-full with between 41,000 and 45,000 people in an area able to accommodate 92,000 supporters, according to police, suggesting security fears had dampened the enthusiasm of some fans.

France has been under a state of emergency since the attacks by Islamic State in November killed 130 people, and terror fears have overshadowed the build-up to football tournament.

England fans clash

However die-hard fans like Daniel Suciu from Romania refused to be cowed.

"We live in a dangerous world. I know it is dangerous but to support Romania is just more important than everything," the 27-year-old told AFP in Paris.

Some 90,000 police and private security guards are being deployed to protect players and supporters, including 13,000 in the capital alone.

However it was the return of an old problem that tested the stretched security forces in Marseille, where England supporters fought with police and rival fans a day before their team's opening fixture against Russia.

Hundreds of fans hurled bottles and other objects at police, who responded with tear gas.

Authorities later ordered bars and restaurants in the port area to close to prevent further trouble.

Several hundred supporters, many drunk and bare-chested taunted police.

The unrest came a day after around 250 England fans pelted police with cans outside a bar in the Vieux-Port area.

Marseille was the scene of some notorious clashes between England and Tunisia supporters during the 1998 World Cup, and the authorities are keen to avoid a repeat.

Strike fears

Just hours before the opening match kicked off, fears that a train strike would cause chaos for fans trying to reach the stadium were allayed as the hardline CGT union vowed not to block transport for the opening match.

But CGT head Philippe Martinez, who is spearheading the opposition to the government's labour market reforms, vowed not to be "blackmailed with the Euro".

"Our mobilisation will continue," he said.

Both Paris and Marseille were also scrambling to clear piles of rubbish from parts of their cities after union activists blockaded incineration plants and some bin men walked off the job.

In another headache for organisers, Air France pilots have called for a four-day strike from Saturday, when hundreds of thousands of foreign fans will begin arriving in earnest.

But Air France chief executive Frederic Gagey promised that more than 80 percent of flights would operate on Saturday.

Source : tolonews[dot]com
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