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Why has the US takeover of an iconic French football club caused uproar?

Leftist politicians were up in arms Friday after a US investment firm purchased a beloved blue-collar soccer club, warning that a French cultural and sporting icon could wither in American hands.

Why has the US takeover of an iconic French football club caused uproar?
Former president Francois Hollande visiting the "Red Star" football club in Saint-Ouen, outside Paris (Photo by CHRISTOPHE ENA / POOL / AFP)

Third-division Red Star — which has an English name — is one of France’s oldest clubs, created in 1897 by the World Cup founder Jules Rimet.

While the club’s performance on the pitch has not always matched its popularity, Red Star’s bastion in the gritty northern Paris suburb of Saint-Ouen is hallowed ground for working-class fans, many of whom have fond memories of the area’s Communist past.

A match on April 15 had to be abandoned after supporters inundated the pitch with smoke bombs to protest the purchase by Miami-based 777 Partners, a private equity group focusing on finance businesses.

Hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who is forging an alliance to challenge President Emmanuel Macron in parliamentary elections next month, was among several politicians who signed an open letter in Le Monde daily denouncing the takeover.

“For us, Red Star is a common good that cannot be sacrified on the altar of profit,” they wrote, urging the government to scupper the sale and defend “a different vision of football.”

Fans claim that 777 is buying up the club — and the pool of potential talent in the low-income neighbourhoods that surround it — to pluck players for its other clubs.

The firm also owns Standard Liege in Belgium, Genoa in Italy and Vasco de Gama in Brazil, and says it has a “major stake” in Spanish first division side Sevilla.

Red Star’s former majority owner Patrice Haddad vowed that 777 would respect the club’s DNA and its “human aspect.”

“How can we protect accessible football if we don’t have the resources? How can we have tickets costing just 10 euros ($10.40)? You need money for all that,” he told sports daily L’Equipe this week.

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IMMIGRATION

French police clear Channel migrant camps after violence leaves one dead

Police dismantled a camp housing hundreds of migrants near Dunkirk in northern France on Wednesday after one person was killed and three wounded in suspected score-settling between smugglers, authorities said.

French police clear Channel migrant camps after violence leaves one dead

Around 500 people, mainly Iraqi Kurds, had been living at the wooded site in Loon-Plage, near a canal that often serves as a key launching point for boats hoping to cross the English Channel for Britain.

Buses stood by to bring the migrants to shelters, but most left instead on foot, carrying what belongings they could.

On Monday night, one migrant was shot and killed and another wounded by what volunteer aid workers described as machine gun fire, the day after two others were also shot and wounded, one seriously.

Ammunition from “weapons of war” were found, Dunkirk’s state prosecutor Sebastian Pieve had told AFP on Tuesday, and a clash between rival smuggling groups was “a theory, but it’s not easy to establish”.

“But it’s certain that human trafficking is the backdrop to this,” he said.

Dawan, a 32-year-old Kurd, would say only “mafia, mafia” when asked by AFP about the shootings.

He said he had recently paid €1,600 to a smuggler who said he would get him to England after spending five months in France, but the man disappeared the next day.

Claire Millot of the Salam migrant aid group said most volunteer associations had quit operating at Loon-Plage out of security fears, adding that Africans and other nationalities had recently been seen in an area usually occupied mainly by Kurds.

More than 7,000 migrants have managed to cross the busy shipping lane and reach the British coast since January, after the number of arrivals tripled to over 28,000 last year — which saw at least 30 migrants die while trying.

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