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France's Valls under fire for jetting to Champions League final

Odd Andersen, AFP | French Prime Minister Manuel Valls meets with UEFA President Michel Platini prior to the Champions League final between Juventus and FC Barcelona in Berlin on June 6

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has come under fire after it emerged he took a government jet to attend the Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Juventus in Berlin on Saturday.

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Catalan-born Valls is known to be a Barcelona fan, but the absence of French teams from the final has given his critics plenty of ammunition.

President François Hollande leapt to Valls’s defence on Monday, explaining that the prime minister was actually on an official trip to meet with the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) to discuss the upcoming Euro 2016 in France.

The country’s junior sports minister, Thierry Braillard, also dismissed allegations that Valls had taken the plane with the sole purpose of watching the match.

“The goal wasn’t to go to support Barça, the goal was to represent France,” he told France Info radio.

But opposition politicians have continued to attack the prime minister, accusing him of using taxpayer money to finance a leisure trip.

“I think that François Hollande needs to ask himself whether he can keep [Valls] in his position, because we have a prime minister who, instead of tackling the problems of the French, […] attends a football match using state money,” Daniel Fasquelle, treasurer of the conservative Les Républicains party (formerly the UMP), told French television LCP on Tuesday.

Valls has played down the controversy, insisting he was only doing his job.

“The sport has a very important role thanks to the big international events that we will be hosting here in France, and it is the role of the head of government to support these big meetings for France,” he said, referring to the Euro 2016. “There’s no polemic, let’s stay focused on the essential.”

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