Hollande hails smooth Euro start
French President Francois Hollande hailed a smooth start to Euro 2016 Friday, despite strikes and terror fears which saw football fans wade through heavy security to attend the opening match.
Women in the national red, white and blue danced the can-can and superstar DJ David Guetta played to a packed stadium at the opening ceremony as France finally got the party atmosphere it had been waiting for, after months of doom and gloom.
But with security fears already running high, trouble flared in the southern city of Marseille, where England fans clashed with police for a second night in a row, leaving the streets of the city's port area cloudy with tear gas and littered with broken bottles.
The European championship has landed in a glum France hit by a series of woes: terror attacks, floods, political turmoil and strikes.
But President Francois Hollande, who earlier warned unions he would not let them disrupt the tournament, hailed the "smooth" start despite fears of transport chaos due to a rail strike.
"Everyone followed the rules," and submitted to security checks, said Hollande, wearing a team scarf around his neck, before the opening match.
"There weren't many people in the streets of Paris today, but there will be many spectators in front of their televisions," Hollande said, predicting a win for the home team.
The hosts faced Romania in the opening match at the Stade de France, where three suicide bombings in November began a night of terror in Paris that left 130 people dead in bars, restaurants and a concert hall.
France has remained under a state of emergency since the coordinated attacks by the Islamic State group, and terror fears have overshadowed the build-up to football tournament.
However die-hard fans like Daniel Suciu from Romania refused to be cowed.
"We live in a dangerous world. I know it is dangerous but to support Romania is just more important than everything," the 27-year-old told AFP as he headed to a fan zone at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.
'I am afraid of terrorism'
But German student Julia Settgast, 28, said she was too jittery to go out and watch the match, and would do so in her Airbnb apartment.
"In Germany I would watch the matches in bars or at a public viewing, but in France... I am afraid of terrorism. I would have a bad feeling if I were going to the fan zone with so many people," she told AFP.
The security fears have led to the deployment of up to 90,000 police and private security guards to protect players and supporters.
However it was rowdy fans that tested already stretched security forces, with England supporters clashing with police in Marseille a day before their opening fixture against Russia.
Dozens of fans hurled bottles and other objects at police, who responded with tear gas and later ordered bars and restaurants in the port area to close to prevent further trouble.
Several hundred supporters, many drunk and bare-chested, remained at the scene afterwards under the watchful gaze of riot police.
The unrest came a day after around 250 England fans clashed with police outside a bar in the Old Port area, pelting them with cans before being repelled with tear gas.
Marseille was the scene of some notorious clashes between England and Tunisia supporters during the 1998 World Cup, and the authorities are keen to avoid a repeat.
Just hours before the opening match kicked off, fears that a train strike would cause chaos for fans trying to reach the stadium were allayed as the main union vowed not to block transport for the opening match.
But the head of the powerful CGT union Philippe Martinez, who is spearheading the industrial unrest, vowed not to be "blackmailed with the Euro. Our mobilisation will continue."
The union is locked in a power struggle with government over labour reforms which have led to months of industrial action and often violent protests.
Both Paris and Marseille were also scrambling to clear piles of rubbish from parts of their cities after trade unionists blockaded incineration plants and some bin men walked off the job.
In another headache for organisers, Air France pilots have called for a four-day strike from Saturday, when an estimated two million foreign fans will begin arriving in earnest.
But Air France chief executive Frederic Gagey promised that more than 80 percent of flights would be operating on Saturday.ac