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Protests disrupt Carrefour meeting

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Protests disrupt Carrefour meeting
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Carrefour’s shareholder meeting in Paris was a stormy affair.

Chief Executive Lars Olofsson faced angry shareholders fed up with falling profits and staff furious over the sale of its Dia discount stores, which they say is the start of the break-up of Europe’s top retailer.

And then women’s rights activists wearing false beards jumped onto the stage protesting against the lack of women in senior management positions at the company.

As investors flocked into the meeting at a luxury conference centre close to the city’s Louvre museum, a crowd of around 100 protesters defied pouring rain to gather outside. They included workers from France, Belgium and Spain.

“Carrefour’s employees have lost confidence in the board and in Olofsson,” said Dejan Terglade, a Force Ouvriere union representative. He said unions would urge the board to resign.

Insider the venue, Olofsson told a packed audience of around 1,600 that he understood their disappointment with the group’s recent performance, which saw it warn last week first-half earnings in its main French market would fall 35 percent.

But the chief executive, battling to drive through a three-year turnaround plan launched in 2009, insisted he was on the right course, particularly with the roll out of its new hypermarket format ‘Carrefour Planet’ — the centrepiece of his turnaround plan.

“We are facing headwinds, possibly even storms,” he said, referring to economic risks in the euro zone from the debt crisis in Greece and pressure on consumer budgets from higher prices. “(But) Carrefour is on the right track.”

Olofsson did secure shareholder approval for plans to spin off and list Dia, the world’s third largest discount chain, in what is the latest attempt to highlight the value of Carrefour’s assets.