Garbage trucks roared through Paris on Friday clearing piles of stinking trash that had accumulated due to labour strikes, as France geared up for the month-long Euro 2016 football championship amid high security.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo had promised earlier to clear the trash, one of the most visible signs of the widespread strikes that have created headaches for officials scrambling to ensure the millions of fans - including an estimated 1.5 million foreign visitors - can continue to focus on football.
"The party is already a little bit spoiled," Euro 2016 President Jacques Lambert said on France Inter radio on Friday. "This image of the country is not the one that we wanted to give."
France has seen historic floods, violent demonstrations and strike-induced fuel shortages in the weeks leading up to the championship, and the government remains in a state of emergency in response to two terrorist attacks last year. Much of the recent turmoil is over labour reforms backed by unpopular President Francois Hollande in a bid to jumpstart the flagging economy.
Nevertheless, the festive spirit was starting to show, with fans sporting team jerseys and the French tricolour on their cheeks. Flags also adorned shop windows, hours before the France was set to face off Romania outside Paris.
Fans arriving at the Stade de France - a site targetted by Islamist terrorists in attacks last November that left 130 people dead - went through three security perimeters before entering the stands, according to French media.
French Interior Ministery spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet advised people to arrive as early as possible to get through the check comfortably before the match start.
Strikes at waste treatment centres have meanwhile caused bags of rubbish to pile up in Paris and other spots, and the refuse was only partially cleared by late Friday afternoon.
"I do not want the city to be in this state," Hidalgo said on broadcaster BFM-TV. "This morning, we have 30 extra [trash] trucks in Paris. All the garbage will be collected; today, it is in the process of being collected; it will take a few days to return to normal."
With the weather warming up in the French capital, the waste balanced precariously on overflow piles on tops of bins had started to emit a strong odour in many of the 10 Parisian neighbourhoods that had been affected by the strikes. The other neighbourhoods were serviced by companies that continued to operate.
On Saturday, nearly 20 per cent of Air France flights were expected to be cancelled on the first day of strikes called by pilots unions after negotations on working conditions and planned restructuring by the airline broke down. The company said it expected to be able to maintain some 90 per cent of long-haul flights.
Around Paris, where the first of 51 championship matches was set to begin on Friday evening, labour strikes had threatened to disrupt transport on regional lines that served the Stade de France stadium.
But the head of umbrella union CGT, Philippe Martinez, told French daily Le Parisien that fans would not be blocked from travelling to Friday's football match.
Martinez also told BFM-TV he would be willing to hold talks with Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri after she said she was open to dialogue. But he pledged that the mobilization led by CGT, one of the central unions in the recent strikes, would continue.
Hollande has demanded an end to the disruptions and appealed to strikers to take responsibility for their actions.
On Thursday, tens of thousands of fans gathered at a fan zone under the Eiffel Tower in Paris to ring in the European football championship. Fans interviewed by dpa said they were not concerned about the turmoil, adding that the ambience was overwhelmingly festive.
Friday, June 10, 2016 - 16:02
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