Two days before the start of Euro 2016 in France, rubbish piled up in parts of Paris on Wednesday and trains were disrupted as strikes and political turmoil over labour reforms dragged on.
Organisers of Europe’s four-yearly football extravaganza already face security jitters and Britain joined the United States in warning the tournament could be a target for terror attacks.
But the immediate concern was unresolved strikes, with union blockades of incineration centres in the Paris region causing widespread disruption.
The piles of uncollected household rubbish accumulating in parts of the capital, giving off a foul smell as the temperatures rise, was hardly the image of France that the Euro 2016 organisers want to convey.
Black refuse sacks also piled up in Saint-Etienne, the central city which will host four Euro 2016 matches.
Meanwhile, rail workers went on strike for an eighth day as unions chewed over an offer from the SNCF rail operator to end their dispute.
Hundreds of union activists lit red smoke 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 cinema workers demonstrated outside the apartment building of Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri in protest at their own special set of working conditions.
El Khomri is a target of workers’ anger after forcing a controversial labour market reform through parliament without a vote.
The furious minister said that after four months, the protests were going too far and “violating family life”.
Negotiations continued with Air France pilots, who have threatened to go on strike for four days from Saturday, when an estimated two million foreign visitors will be arriving to watch the football.
“The government, through its obstinate approach, carries the entire responsibility for the conflict continuing,” the 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, saying the reforms are necessary to bring down unemployment and make it easier for companies to take on new staff and release them in a downturn.
– ‘Be vigilant’ –
France is already on high alert for terror attacks during the month-long tournament, which takes place seven months after gunmen and suicide bombers from the Islamic State group killed 130 people in Paris.
Britain on Tuesday warned its citizens there was a “high threat from terrorism” during the month-long championship.
The Foreign Office said fans who will travel to France to watch matches featuring England, Northern Ireland and Wales should be “vigilant at all times”.
“Stadiums, fan zones, venues broadcasting the tournament and transport hubs and links represent potential targets for terrorist attacks,” the Foreign Office said.
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 arrest of a Frenchman with alleged far-right sympathies in possession of an arsenal of weapons in Ukraine on Monday has heightened fears.
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.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazenueve said security forces were leaving nothing to chance.
“We are doing everything to avoid a terrorist attack and we are also preparing to respond to one,” he said.
The French government was set to launch a free smartphone app which will warn visitors of any “major crisis”, including suspected attacks according to their location.
France has mobilised 90,000 police and private guards to provide security at Euro 2016.
A new perimeter fence has been erected around the Stade de France stadium in Paris which will host Friday’s opening match between France and Romania and the final on July 10, to allow increased searches of supporters.