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Security fears, strikes cloud French Euro 2016 buildup

09 June 2016, MVT 05:25
Policemen stand guard as the bus of the Spanish national football team leaves La Rochelle's airport on June 8, 2016, after the team's arrival for the Euro 2016 football tournament. / AFP PHOTO 
09 June 2016, MVT 05:25

Two days before Euro 2016 kicks off in France, unresolved strikes and security fears hung over the tournament with Paris scrambling Wednesday to stop rubbish piling up in its streets.

Europe's four-yearly football extravaganza is taking place just seven months after jihadists killed 130 people in the French capital and there are fears the tournament could be a target for more terror attacks.

Germany defender Jerome Boateng became the first high-profile player to say he was banning his family from coming to the stadiums for the tournament because he was concerned for their safety.

"My family and children will not be coming to the stadium. The risk is simply too big," he told Sport Bild weekly.

The French government launched a free smartphone app in French and English which will warn visitors of any "major crisis", including suspected attacks.

The immediate concern though was the industrial unrest and political turmoil over controversial labour reforms that look set to continue into the championships despite the government's pleas for unions to halt their action.

In the latest of four months of strikes, union supporters blockaded incineration centres in central Paris, causing uncollected rubbish to pile up in 10 of the capital's 20 districts.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo called for an end to the strike action and promised to get the rubbish collected as soon as possible.

"We are redeploying staff to sort out the situation where it's most critical today," Hidalgo said.

Uncollected black refuse sacks were also accumulating in Saint-Etienne, the central city which will host four Euro 2016 matches.

Rail workers locked in one of the most obstinate strikes said they would continue to disrupt services on Thursday, extending their action to a ninth day in Paris and several other regions.

Unions were still chewing over an offer from the SNCF rail operator to end their dispute.

Hundreds of union activists lit flares in a protest rally in the Gare du Nord station, the departure point for Eurostar trains to Britain and other services to northern Europe.

And in a separate dispute, theatre and film industry workers held an early morning demonstration outside the apartment building of Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri in protest at their own special set of working conditions.

The furious minister said the activists were "violating family life" and had gone too far.

Negotiations continued between Air France and pilots' unions, who have threatened to ground planes for four days from Saturday, when an estimated two million foreign visitors will be arriving to watch the football.

- 'Obstinate' government -

"The government, through its obstinate approach, carries the entire responsibility for the conflict continuing," the hardline CGT union, which has spearheaded the strikes, said.

The CGT wants the Socialist government to scrap the labour reforms, which unions say are stacked in favour of employers and will chip away at job security.

President Francois Hollande has refused to back down, arguing the measures are necessary to cut unemployment and make it easier for companies to take on new staff and release them in a downturn.

The growing unease over security was underlined on Tuesday when Britain warned its citizens there was a "high threat from terrorism" at the month-long championships.

The Foreign Office said fans following England, Northern Ireland and Wales should be "vigilant at all times" and warned "stadiums, fan zones, venues broadcasting the tournament and transport hubs" were all potential targets.

The US State Department made a similar warning last week, also pinpointing the risk that venues showing the matches on TV "in France and across Europe" were potential targets.

The Stade de France in Paris was among the locations targeted in November's jihadist attacks.

The arrest of a Frenchman with alleged far-right sympathies in possession of an arsenal of weapons in Ukraine on Monday caused new jitters.

Ukraine said the 25-year-old, identified in France as Gregoire Moutaux, was planning to attack locations including mosques and synagogues before and during the tournament.

France has mobilised 90,000 police and private guards in a huge security operation for the tournament, which kicks off at the Stade de France on Friday when France face Romania.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazenueve said although there was no specific threat to the tournament, police were ready for any eventuality.

"We are doing everything to avoid a terrorist attack and we are also preparing to respond to one," he said.

Paris, France | AFP |

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