Hollande seeks to lift glum France as Euro 2016 looms

Paris (AFP) – President Francois Hollande on Sunday sought to dispel the threat of strikes and dread of terrorism hanging over France as the country readies to host the Euro 2016 football championship.

Five days before Paris showcases one of the world’s top sporting events, Hollande tried to lift a grim national mood that has been compounded by devastating floods.

Hollande acknowledged that the threat of an attack during the Euros could not be discounted but France must not be intimated.

“This threat exists,” he told the public radio station France Inter. “But we must not be daunted.”

“This threat will last for a long time, unfortunately,” he said. “So we must do everything to ensure that the Euro 2016 is a success.”

The country is on high alert following jihadist attacks in Paris in January and November last year that left nearly 150 dead.

The United States warned last week that the lure of the Euros could also tempt terror attacks. 

The French authorities have mustered 90,000 security personnel to guard stadiums and “fan zones” where spectators will gather to watch the matches on giant screens.

France, said Hollande, has to ensure that the matches go ahead and the fan zones are secure — and do all it can to turn the competition into “a popular, sporting European party.”

But he also called on striking workers in the transport sector, who are protesting at planned labour reforms, to return to work.

“No-one would understand if the trains or the planes… prevented the smooth transport… of spectators,” Hollande said.

“I want this (labour dispute) to be resolved,” he said.

A final round of negotiations is due to take place on Monday in a bid to end a five-day strike that has knocked out train services in much of the country.

Workers in refuse collection centres and refineries are also being called out in the coming days in a bid to have the contested labour laws scrapped.

Air France pilots, in an internal conflict within the airline, are threatening to start a four-day strike on June 11, when the Euros are in full swing, and a major protest is planned in Paris on June 14.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Saturday urged strikers to show solidarity with the beleaguered public.

“This strike is already incomprehensible, but in the regions affected (by floods), it is completely incomprehensible,” he said on a visit to the flooded central town of Crosne.

Hollande is battling with record unpopularity for a modern French leader. 

But a new opinion poll, released by the survey firm BVA on Sunday, found a swing in public mood against the strike.

Whereas 54 percent of those questioned previously said they backed the stoppages, 54 percent were now against, it said.

– Eyes on the skies –

In central, eastern and northwestern France and in Paris, meanwhile, many people kept a close eye on the skies on Sunday, fearful of more of the rain that has fuelled destructive floods.

Four people were killed in France and 14 others elsewhere in Europe, 11 of them in the German states of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Residents in flood-hit regions to the east and south of Paris picked through devastated homes, with insurers estimating damages nationwide of between 600 million euros ($681 million) and two billion euros.

A total of 7,800 homes, out of 25,000 initially affected, were without power, the electricity grid manager Enedis said.

Thick grey clouds hung over Paris as the muddy Seine slowly receded from a three-decade high that saw it burst its banks in places and forced the Louvre and Orsay museums to close to move works out of basement stores as a precaution.

In Paris several metro stations remained shut as a precaution.

“It is really bad, we don’t need this now,” bank employee Pascal Derby, 62, told AFP, as he gloomily watched the swirling waters of the Seine.

“All the authorities are stretched — the police, firemen. It is a nightmare.”

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