PARIS: The Euro 2016 football championships kick off in France on Friday under unprecedented security and with President Francois Hollande vowing to take decisive action to stop strikes hitting the showpiece event.
The action on the pitch starts when France face Romania in the Stade de France in Paris at 1900 GMT, but the buildup has been blighted by industrial unrest over labour reforms and fears the tournament will be the target of a terrorist attack.
As bags of uncollected rubbish piled up in the streets of the capital and train drivers threatened to disrupt services to the stadium, Hollande said he would take “all necessary measures” to ensure the smooth running of the championships.
“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.”
Up to 90,000 police and private security guards will protect players and supporters, just seven months after coordinated Islamic State attacks in Paris killed 130 people.
The stringent security measures got their first real test on Thursday when superstar French DJ David Guetta gave a free performance in the fan zone at the foot of the Eiffel Tower where some 80,000 spectators had to pass through two checkpoints.
The government is eager to make sure the championship goes off without a hitch, but weeks of protests and industrial action have provided a sombre prelude to Europe´s four-yearly football extravaganza.
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, while bags of rubbish piled up on the streets.
Rail workers have threatened fresh disruption on Friday on the lines serving the Stade de France.
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.