‘Unprecedented political situation’: French election results prompt protests ahead of Olympics

France faces political turmoil ahead of hosting the Olympics, with a hung parliament complicating government positions. Strikes at Paris airports add uncertainty. Organisers worry about security and disruption. Unions demand Olympics bonuses.

AFP
First Published9 Jul 2024, 12:19 AM IST
‘Unprecedented political situation’: French election results prompt protests ahead of Olympics
‘Unprecedented political situation’: French election results prompt protests ahead of Olympics(AFP)

France was plunged into political turmoil on Monday three weeks before hosting the Olympics, while a call for strikes at Paris airports added fresh uncertainty to the already tense build up.

The run-up to the world's biggest sporting event is usually fraught for host nations, but French President Emmanuel Macron added unexpected complexity last month by calling snap parliamentary elections.

A second round of voting for the National Assembly on Sunday delivered a hung parliament, making it hard to know who will be in key government positions when the Games open on July 26.

"Our country is facing an unprecedented political situation and is getting ready to host the world in a few weeks," Prime Minister Gabriel Attal stressed on Sunday evening as he offered his resignation.

Macron has asked the ambitious 35-year-old to remain at his post "for the time being to ensure the stability of the country", a statement from the presidency said.

It is unclear whether the head of state will seek to keep a caretaker government in place until the Paris Games close on August 11, but a left-wing alliance that topped Sunday's vote is already pushing to name a candidate to replace Attal.

The fate of Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who has overseen security preparations for the Games, is also in the balance.

"What organisers worry about the most are things like delinquency and crime, and of course terrorism, as well as traffic conditions," Paul Dietschy, a history and sports professor at the Universite of Franche-Comte in France, told AFP.

"The interior minister is the most important position."

Darmanin said last week that if the far-right National Rally or hard-left France Unbowed party formed a government, then he would resign immediately.

"The Olympic Games have been very well-prepared. Everyone knows it and everyone welcomes it," he told AFP.

- Disruption threat -

 

Elsewhere on Monday, unions representing workers at ADP, which runs the capital's two main airports, said they had called for a strike next week to demand Olympics bonuses for all staff and a "massive" recruitment plan.

Paris's airports will be the main gateway into France for foreign visitors to the Olympics, with up to 350,000 people expected to transit there daily, as well as most athletes and their equipment.

The strike on July 17 will occur just before athletes are set to arrive to take up residence in the newly built Olympic village in northern Paris.

ADP has built new temporary over-sized baggage terminal at Charles de Gaulle airport to handle specialised sports equipment such as kayaks and bikes.

Ahead of the 1998 football World Cup in France, the last time the country hosted such a major sporting event, pilots at national carrier Air France went on strike on the eve of kick-off along with taxi drivers and other transport workers.

Police, air traffic controllers, rubbish collectors, central government employees, metro and train drivers as well as firefighters have all made pay demands ahead of the Olympics, seeking to use the leverage.

Chief Olympics organiser Tony Estanguet has called for a "truce" between unions and employers during the competition.

"I want us to welcome the world in the best possible conditions and we don't want to spoil the party," he told French television in February.

- Excitement? -

 

Estanguet and the International Olympic Committee were both blindsided by Macron's election gamble so close to the start of the Paris Games -- as were most government ministers and voters.

The prospect of the far-right taking power was seen by many observers as a risk that would undermine France's image -- and the themes of diversity and openness stressed by Paris 2024.

Estanguet "must be feeling very happy since last night," said David Roizen, an Olympics specialist at the left-leaning Jean-Jaures Foundation think-tank in Paris.

Paris 2024 figures have also sought to stress that senior civil servants with responsiblity for Games-related issues like security and transport will remain in place even if the cabinet changes.

The Games can count on "the continuity of the state", the Paris organising committee told AFP, adding they had worked "night and day in previous weeks to be ready."

In France, the election has entirely overshadowed the build-up to the sporting extravaganza, with the local media paying more attention to the political manoeuvrings than the new sports facilities nearing completion around the capital.

"If Macron hadn't dissolved the parliament, then there would be a bit more passion for the Games," Dietschy said. "You don't really feel excitement building. Most French people have been focused on the election."

adp-cto/gj

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First Published:9 Jul 2024, 12:19 AM IST
HomeNewsworld‘Unprecedented political situation’: French election results prompt protests ahead of Olympics

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