French labour protests turn violent

French labour protests turn violent

Place de la Republique, Paris. Source: Flickr

Protesters across France have violently rallied against a draft labour reform law, with at least seven police officers hurt and 17 protesters arrested in Paris and Rennes, which saw the most violent clashes.

Following concessions to the bill, the protest movement has fallen from peak in late March, when turnout ranged from between 390,000 and 1.2 million, suggesting President François Hollande would ride out the crisis. Around 120,000 people took part in a sixth day of protests on Saturday, according to Paris’ interior ministry.

Police clashed with masked protesters hurling stones in Paris, Rennes and Nantes. The capital’s police commander Michel Cadot said 300 to 400 militants at the union-organised protest in Paris attacked his officers. Some of them apparently set a car ablaze and others pelted government buildings. Officers repelled an attempt by protesters to enter one building early on Sunday morning, the police said. Paris police also used tear gas against masked protesters throwing bottles and firecrackers, with one officer injured.

“We’re starting the second month [of protests],” said Jean-Claude Mailly of the Force Ouvriere trade union in Paris. “We’re not afraid of losing steam.”

Police in Rennes used tear gas and stun grenades in clashes with demonstrators on Saturday. Three officers reportedly needed emergency care and there were unconfirmed reports of another 19 injuries. In Nantes, hundreds of young people erected barricades and threw stones, bottles and eggs at police who used stun guns and tear gas.

The labour reforms, which have already been diluted once in a bid to placate critics, are considered unlikely to achieve their stated goal of reining in unemployment, which stands at 25 per cent among young people.

The draft labour law seeks to introduce more flexibility in working hours and reduce labour tribunal challenges and payouts. After some parliamentary compromises, Prime Minister Manuel Valls is set to propose a revised version of the bill today (Monday) after a meeting with student leaders at his Matignon office.

Hollande’s popularity ratings were already the lowest of any serving president in modern French history before the violence. Rebellion within his governing Socialist party last week forced the president to scrap plans to strip French citizenship from terrorism convicts, a hard line that he adopted after the November attacks on Paris.

He faces re-election in 2017 but at the weekend his party’s national council said it would back a primary contest that is likely to produce Socialist challengers.

Thousands have been gathered at central Paris’s Place de la Republique in recent weeks to protest against the proposed law. Hollande said the changes were necessary to bring down France’s unemployment, which has hovered above 10 per cent since the 2008 financial crisis.

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