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Multiple Concerns Bog Down European Soccer Championship Host

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Tonight marks the start of the European soccer championship, which is held in France.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Over the next month, more than 2 million fans from across Europe are expected to come to France to support their teams. Security is of course high after last year's attacks in Paris, which included an attack on a soccer stadium.

INSKEEP: Entirely aside from that threat, there's this challenge. The event is in France, where society is never entirely tranquil. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Not really sure how to feel about it, something in the way you move...

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: A giant fan zone under the Eiffel Tower was inaugurated last night with a concert and light show in front of some 80,000 people. All week long, workers put the finishing touches on this massive grassy area, where up to 92,000 fans will be able to gather to watch the games. Jean-Francois Martins is Paris deputy mayor in charge of sports and tourism.

JEAN-FRANCOIS MARTINS: It will be the beating heart of the tournament for people who won't have any tickets for the games but who want to live the tournament as if they were in the stadium with the same energy, with the same feelings.

BEARDSLEY: There are 10 such fan zones in other cities around France. Fans cannot carry large bags. And every person who enters will be frisked. In a radio interview this week, French president Francois Hollande said after last year's two terrorist attacks, some wondered if the championship should go on.

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FRANCOIS HOLLANDE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "I decided not only should we keep the competition and the fan zones," said Hollande, "but we should make it a European party, a massive sporting festival." To do that, Hollande said, France was pulling out all the stops. Some 90,000 police, soldiers and private security guards are on duty across the country.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: And police have trained in dozens of attack simulations, like this one that took place recently at the Paris stadium. The French government has even created an emergency alert app for smartphones to send swift warnings in the event of a disaster. Criminologist Alain Bauer says the fan zones and stadiums can be secured. That's not the difficulty.

ALAIN BAUER: What is difficult is everything going on at the same time because police are getting extremely tired.

BEARDSLEY: And, Bauer says, with everything going on right now, it's nearly impossible to find any more manpower. The country suffered its worst flooding in half a century, and the Seine River has not entirely receded. And then there are the strikes. For the past two months, a few hardline unions have blocked roads and oil refineries across the country to protest the government's new labor law. Rail workers walked off the job 10 days ago. And garbage collectors have now joined them. Trash is piling up in Paris. And at the Gare Saint Lazare train station...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking French).

(APPLAUSE)

BEARDSLEY: Workers from a few hardline unions gather on a platform, giving speeches and voting to extend their strike through next Tuesday. Train driver Nicolas Bouchricha says they won't stop until they get what they want.

NICOLAS BOUCHRICHA: (Through interpreter) If the government wants the European championship to go well, it's not difficult. It just needs to withdraw the law.

BEARDSLEY: Air France pilots are set to walk off the job Saturday. Speaking on a morning radio show, former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy railed about the tyranny of a small minority.

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NICOLAS SARKOZY: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "The French have been tested by the floods. And now they need this soccer championship," he said. "These small groups are paralyzing the country. It's a scandal." After one hardline union said it plans to block public transportation to the opening match at the Paris stadium tonight, the French government has threatened to use an emergency law to force rail workers to drive the trains. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.