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Air France managers flee as staff storm meeting on job cuts

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Striking employees of Air France demonstrate in front of the Air France headquarters building at the Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Roissy

Striking employees of Air France demonstrate in front of the Air France headquarters building at the Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Roissy, near Paris, France, October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

By Simon Carraud and Cyril Altmeyer

ROISSY, France (Reuters) - Air France managers fled a meeting on Monday about mass job cuts after angry staff waving banners and flags stormed the room, according to Reuters journalists at the scene.

The airline's human resources and labor relations chief Xavier Broseta had his shirt ripped off and his tie hanging from his neck as he battled through crowds of workers, some of whom shouted "clothes off".

Two security guards, one of whom was knocked out and did not recover consciousness for several hours, were hurt in the fracas, an Air France spokesman later said.

Broseta and Air France Chief Executive Frederic Gagey had been outlining a drastic cost cutting plan, described by the company as "Plan B" after it failed to persuade its pilots to accept a less radical one earlier this year.

Violent protests like Monday's are not unusual in France, where the population has a long tradition of taking the law into its own hands.

This year, as the country struggles to come out of an economic downturn, has seen several, with traffic disruption, damage to public property and injuries to police officers features of a spate of demonstrations by farmers, taxi drivers, ferry workers and even tobacconists.

However, unlike the headline makers in some other disputes, pilots lack sympathy among the general public and the Socialist government.

Ministers have queued up in recent days to put pressure on pilots to strike a deal, and a Sept. 26 opinion poll for Le Parisien newspaper found 71 percent of people see them as a privileged group, with 64 percent believing they complain too much.

Ground staff trade unions long ago accepted the company's original, less draconian, cost-saving regime, in contrast to the pilots, who staged a strike a year ago that cost the company 500 million euros ($560 million).

Air France CEO Gagey had already left the room on Monday before the works council meeting near Charles de Gaulle airport north of Paris was interrupted about an hour after it had begun.

Parent Air France-KLM said it planned to take legal action over "aggravated violence" carried out against its managers.

The main airline industry union FNAM also condemned the attack on Broseta, calling it "outdated behavior".

Air France later confirmed the details of the "Plan B" it had been outlining in the interrupted meeting.

By 2017 it plans to cut 2,900 jobs and shed aircraft from its long-haul fleet by retiring some Airbus aircraft early and cancelling orders for new Boeing planes.

Air France-KLM has 19 Boeing 787-9 and six 787-10 jets on order. Industry sources said Boeing would be keen to keep the order on its books, possibly by agreeing to defer delivery.

The job cuts include 1,700 ground staff, 900 cabin crew and 300 pilots. The long-haul business would be reduced by 10 percent, with the fleet down by 14 aircraft to 93 and with the closure of five of its most heavily loss-making routes, mainly those serving Asia and the Middle East.

Air France-KLM faces tough competition.

Like Europe's other big flag carriers, such as British Airways owner IAG and Germany's Lufthansa, it has been squeezed between low-cost competition inside Europe and fast-expanding long-haul airlines in the Gulf, as well as Turkish Airlines (THY).

Turkish Airlines is set to become the largest carrier on routes to and from Europe by the end of this year, ahead of British Airways, aircraft financiers gathered in Prague were told on Monday. Dubai's Emirates would be in third place.

The data treats Air France and KLM separately.

Lufthansa, which is also battling with union opposition to cost-cutting, has managed to push forward plans for a revamped low-cost unit, Eurowings.

(With additional reporting by Jacky Naegelen in Paris, Tim Hepher in Prague and Victoria Bryan in Berlin; Writing by James Regan; Editing by Andrew Callus and Mark Potter)