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First Euro Coins Released - 2001-12-14

French, Irish and Dutch citizens obtained their first euro coins Friday, less than three weeks before a dozen European countries adopt a common currency.

The first euros are selling briskly in France.

Luigi Pisano's first euro customers were already lining up at his Paris coffee shop and tobacco store at 6 o'clock opening time, Friday morning. By midday, Mr. Pisano said, he was sold out of his small stash of euro kits.

Mr. Pisano, who is of Italian origin, said some of his customers want to buy euros as Christmas presents. He said others want a memento, to mark the historic passage from the French franc to a pan-European currency.

The soaring euro demand was replicated across France, where 50-million euro kits went on sale at select post offices, tobacco stores, banks and supermarkets as of midnight Thursday.

Sales are so brisk, the French government announced Friday it would buy extra 50-centime pieces from Spain. And on the exchange market early Friday, the euro topped 90 U.S. cents for the first time in a month.

The euro kits contain just over 15 euros worth of coins - the equivalent of 100 French francs. The new money can not be used until January 1, when France and 11 other European Union countries adopt the common currency. Instead, the kits are intended to familiarize Europeans with their new currency before euro-day.

But in France, at least, the ride toward the euro has not always been smooth. Threatened strikes by banking clerks and postal workers for better work conditions Friday, risked disrupting the euro's introduction.

Some venders have also been criticized for marking up their prices, in anticipation of the currency's arrival. Public opinion polls have also been contradictory about whether the French are truly ready for their new currency.

But at Mr. Pisano's coffee shop, 58-year-old construction worker Michel Fouchard for one, said he was not worried about the euro's arrival.

For the moment, however, Mr. Fouchard is unable to familiarize himself with the new currency. He said all the euro venders he frequented Friday were already sold out of their euros.