Tempest in a World Cup

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PARIS: As one embarassing conflict ended, so another began. Air France pilots reached a strike-breaking deal early Wednesday with just hours left on the clock before the World Cup began -- but any feelings of relief in the French capital were dampened by clashes between drunken fans and overzealous police on the Champs Elysées. During what was supposed to be a celebration of the global tournament, security-minded gendarmes pushed the crowd behind a maze of barriers. Several hundred local supporters started throwing bottles, and riot troops responded with tear gas. With 34 injured and 50 arrested, it was a scene that made the City of Lights look more like Jakarta.

Parisian youths may be turning into hooligans, but at least the pilots have stopped acting like high-paid crybabies. Wednesday's deal means the highest-paid workers in France will start flying again, albeit with an agreement to take a 50,000-franc ($8,350) pay cut and accept a percentage of the company in return. For its part, Air France scrapped a two-tier pay system and promised the pilots that this is not the slippery slope to privatization. All well and good, but the fans still trapped at home by the World Cup carrier's strike will still miss Wednesday's Brazil-Scotland opener. For the image-conscious French, there's just one word for it all: Merde!