PARIS • The first match of Euro 2016 kicked off in strike-hit Paris this morning as French President Francois Hollande vowed to take drastic action to ensure the month- long tournament ran smoothly.
Already, a garbage collectors' strike, made worse by torrential rains last month, has left stinking piles of rubbish all over Paris.
Train drivers have threatened to disrupt services and Air France pilots are set to begin a four-day strike from today, just as an estimated two million foreign fans begin arriving in earnest.
Glum organisers said that weeks of industrial action - in protest against changes in labour laws that make it easier for companies to hire and fire - had dampened the party atmosphere.
"The image that is being given is not the one we wanted," chief organiser Jacques Lambert admitted just hours before hosts France face Romania at the Stade de France.
France has been hit by months of seemingly endless woes, from terror attacks and floods to political turmoil and strikes.
But die-hard fans like 27-year-old Daniel Suciu from Romania refused to be put off by the gloom and fear of a terrorist attack. "We live in a dangerous world. I know it is dangerous but to support Romania is just more important than everything," he said ahead of the opening match between France and Romania.
President Hollande said he would take "all necessary measures" to ensure that Euro 2016 ran without a hitch.
"Public services will be provided... The whole of Europe will be watching," he said.
The cities of Paris and Marseille meanwhile scrambled yesterday to clear stinking piles of rubbish from pavements after trade unionists blockaded incineration plants and some bin men walked off the job.
France is also on edge over the prospect of another terror attack, with Euro 2016 coming just seven months after Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants killed 130 people in Paris. The Stade de France was where three militants blew themselves up at the start of the Nov 13 carnage, which also targeted a concert hall, cafes and restaurants.
Up to 90,000 police and private security guards have been roped in to protect players and supporters at the tournament.
France's already stretched security forces also have to contend with the threat of hooliganism, which flared up on Thursday night as around 250 England fans clashed with police outside a bar in the southern city of Marseille, where England will face Russia today.
Despite the downbeat atmosphere, some hoped the tournament would provide a welcome respite.
Said an editorial in the Le Parisien newspaper: "No, a football match will not erase days of strikes and weeks of tensions. But the prospect of a delightful little digression is enough to leave many of us smiling."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG
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• Who do you think will win the group stages, and clinch the Euro 2016 trophy? Try our interactive predictor game, and also build your ultimate Euro footballer of all time, watch animated goal replays and read the latest reports at ST's Euro 2016 microsite: http://www.straitstimes.com/tags/euro-2016