Strikes menace Paris Olympic bid

9th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 10 (AFP) - France's bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games took a hard knock on Thursday as trade unions staged a nationwide day of strikes, demonstrations and transport stoppages just as an IOC team held an inspection tour of the proposed Paris sites.

PARIS, March 10 (AFP) - France's bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games took a hard knock on Thursday as trade unions staged a nationwide day of strikes, demonstrations and transport stoppages just as an IOC team held an inspection tour of the proposed Paris sites.

Much of the capital's metro and bus system was at a standstill, half of flights to the two airports were cancelled or delayed, classrooms and government offices were closed, and a mass demonstration drew tens of thousands during the afternoon.

The protests were part of a campaign by unions and the socialist opposition to force the government of President Jacques Chirac to increase wages, reverse reforms of the 35 hour working week and end its efforts to trim the welfare state.

Elsewhere large rallies were held in cities across the country, as workers heeded calls for strikes in schools, national and local administration, post and telecommunications, gas and electricity services, banks, the press, museums and tourist offices.

Union leaders insisted they did not mean to damage the Paris bid - which if successful would create tens of thousands of jobs - and some participants in the capital's protest march had banners and base-ball caps proclaiming their support.

The city's mayor Bertrand Delanoe - a socialist who has been the driving force behind the candidacy - even said the protests could be an asset, if Paris could take the disruption in is stride.

"Do you think the committee does not know what democracy means, that it doesn't know France and thinks the best countries are the ones where there are no arguments? Contrary to what people say, this could actually reinforce our bid," he said.

But many organisers and politicians conceded that the strikes could harm France's chances - in what is likely to be a tight race against other candidate cities - by reinforcing its image as a country prey to pressure from trade unions and the street.

With urban transport - along with security - one of the key issues under the inspectors' gaze, their inability to use the system for their tour of venues left a poor impression.

Bid organisers were also fending off embarrassing questions about the forthcoming trial on corruption charges of one of the leading members of the city's olympic committee.

Former sports minister Guy Drut is one of 47 politicians who will appear in a Paris court on March 21 accused of organising kickbacks from building firms on behalf of political parties in the early 1990s.

Making its third bid for the Olympic Games in 20 years, Paris has so far put on a confident display - with politicians from right and left rallying behind Delanoe and only a handful of Greens arguing against the nomination. Polls show nearly 90 percent of the public is in favour.

For weeks police vehicles and taxis have borne stickers supporting the bid, a vast multi-coloured representation of the Olympic symbol is emblazoned across the parliament building, street posters bear the slogan "Love of the Games," and buses fly Olympic flags.

The inspection team - which has already visited London, Madrid and New York and will travel on to Moscow - was being feted in a luxury hotel near the Opera, and had invitations to dine with both Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin during its five-day visit.

On Thursday it travelled by coach to the key sites, including the proposed Olympic village in a derelict railway yard of northwest Paris; the Stade de France and Roland Garros tennis centre; and even the Eiffel Tower, beneath which beach volleyball is planned.

Most of the venues are in the west of the capital, and the demonstration was routed in the east.

"We can't hide from it: abroad France is seen as a country of strikes. What we have to do is show that we are capable of positive discussions to overcome the problem," said Philippe Baudillon, director of the Paris bid committee.

"If we are asked by the evaluation committee, we will reply that in France we have a democracy, there is a right to strike, and we will add that if Paris gets the games, we will put in place a management system that limits the risks due to social problems," he said.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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