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Soccer-French clubs to strike over wealth tax

Reuters

* No Ligue 1 and 2 games from Nov 29-Dec 2

* Poll shows French against exemption for soccer clubs (Adds poll, quotes)

By Simon Carraud

PARIS, Oct 24 (Reuters) - French soccer clubs will stage a strike at the end of next month in protest at a controversial super tax on player salaries in an escalation of a row over president Francois Hollande's tax policy.

The strike is the latest blow to Hollande, whose government is already suffering from record low popularity ratings because of high unemployment and internal bickering over everything from immigration to economic policy.

"There will be a weekend without a game at the end of the month (of November)," Jean-Pierre Louvel, the president of the professional clubs' union, told a news conference on Thursday.

"It is the survival of French football that is at stake," Louvel then told ITele.

However, a poll of 961 people by Tilder-LCI-OpinionWay on Thursday showed that 85 per cent of the persons asked do not want the football clubs to be exempt from the tax.

"Football players who go on strike, I'm pretty sure it's going to set some tongues' wagging," UEFA president Michel Platini told Canal Plus.

The strike, the first since French league players protested about their contracts in 1972, will affect Ligue 1 and 2 matches on Nov. 29 to Dec 2.

The first round of matches in the 2010/11 Serie A season in Italy was called off after players went on strike over the failure to agree a collective bargaining agreement between the players' union and the league.

The strike is supported by the players, according to their union (FIFPro) president.

"They show solidarity with the move," Philippe Piat was quoted as saying by French sports daily L'Equipe's website (www.lequipe.fr).

Fourteen of the 20 Ligue 1 clubs will be affected by the tax, with Qatar-funded Paris St Germain the hardest hit while Monaco, backed by a Russian billionaire, will be exempt as they do not fall under French tax laws.

PSG, who have spent more than 200 million euros on transfers since being taken over by Qatar Sports Investments in 2011, are expected to pay some 20 million euros - just under half of the total the clubs would pay annually.

Four-fifths of French voters believe the Socialist Hollande will not win the next presidential election in 2017, a Harris Interactive poll for Le Figaro daily and LCP television showed on Thursday.

The 75 percent tax rate was initially to be paid by those earning over one million euros a year.

After protests by top French executives and actors such as Gerard Depardieu, the government changed the law so that it would be payable by the companies offering such salaries.

The tax is applicable to annual revenues above one million euros although there is a five percent cap of a company's turnover.

"A football club is treated like any other company," the Prime Minister's office said.

Hollande is to meet French clubs' representatives next week to discuss the tax.

"We will ask him once again to drop this tax," said Louvel.

The French clubs are backed by the League (LFP) in their fight against the government.

"I fully approve of the clubs' determination and I understand their exasperation," LFP president Frederic Thiriez told reporters. (Additional reporting by Julien Pretot, Mark John and Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Clare Fallon)

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