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France’s Biggest Security Test
International

France’s Biggest Security Test

The Euro 2016 football championships kicked off in France on Friday under unprecedented security measures and with French President Francois Hollande vowing to take decisive action to stop strikes hitting the showpiece event.

Up to 90,000 police and private security guards will protect players and supporters during one month of football extravaganza, just seven months after coordinated attacks by the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group in Paris killed 130 people, AFP reported.

The buildup to the four-yearly tournament was blighted by industrial unrest over labor reforms and fears the tournament will be the target of a terrorist attack.

France remains a top target for IS militants and warnings from the United States and Britain that the tournament could be a target have only added to the sense of nervousness.

The country has been plagued for weeks by protests over a labor reform bill that has littered the streets of the capital with waste.

Nearly 3,000 tons of waste have gone uncollected in Paris and train drivers have threatened to disrupt services to stadiums.

"I will be paying close attention ... and if decisions need to be made, they will be made," Hollande said. "Public services will be provided ... The whole of Europe will be watching."

Hollande has refused to back down on the unions' demands to withdraw the labor reforms, arguing the measures are necessary to cut stubbornly high unemployment.

As hundreds of thousands of fans began pouring into the capital ahead of the football action, a train strike rumbled into its ninth day on Thursday.

Rail workers threatened fresh disruption on Friday on the lines serving the Stade de France, the country's national stadium wherein Euro 2016's opening game between France and Romania was held.

Among a host of extra security measures, a new perimeter fence was added around the venue to allow more security searches of spectators.

In another headache for organizers, Air France pilots have called for a four-day strike starting on Saturday, when an estimated two million foreign fans will begin arriving in earnest.

But Air France chief executive, Frederic Gagey, promised that between 70% and 80% of flights would operate on Saturday.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 300 people had been barred from serving in the private security teams after vetting showed they had been radicalized.

Environment Minister Segolene Royal appealed to unions to end their strike disruption, warning they were endangering the image of France, which is bidding to host the 2024 Olympics.

She told iTele it was "not right for a modern country to continue being permanently disrupted".

"France's pride is at stake," Royal said.

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