The French are up in arms again over fast food, but instead of tearing down a McDonald's, this time they are fighting to save one from closing.

The land of haute cuisine is no stranger to protests against malbouffe, or junk food.

But Marseille residents are now waging a legal and political battle to keep a McDonald's outlet that has become a "centre of community life" and a much-needed job provider.

Jean-Claude Gaudin, Marseille's conservative mayor, and Samia Ghali, its Socialist senator, have joined the campaign.


If McDonald's goes ahead with a plan to close its branch in Saint-Barthélémy, a north Marseille neighbourhood plagued by gang violence, drug trafficking and high unemployment, the senator vowed to "oppose its presence throughout Marseille".

With a staff of 77, the McDonald's restaurant is the second-biggest private-sector employer in Saint-Barthélémy, which has an unemployment rate of 30 per cent - more than triple the national average.

McDonald's has won hearts and minds by hiring school dropouts and local youths desperate for work after serving prison terms. Many now fear losing their jobs.

Salim Grabsi, a member of a residents' association, said: "There's nothing left in areas like this and McDonald's is a centre of community life, a place where families can sit down and relax with their kids."

Staff at the branch are challenging the legality of the plan to sell the outlet, owned jointly by Jean-Pierre Brochiero, a local franchise-holder - who claims the branch makes a loss - and McDonald's France.

Staff obtained a court order last week suspending the sale on the grounds that Brochiero had failed to comply with a legal obligation to consult employees and ruling will be made tomorrow or Tuesday.