Scores arrested ahead of latest Paris protest

2016-06-23 15:51
Demonstrators shout slogans as they pass police. (Francois Mori, AP)

Demonstrators shout slogans as they pass police. (Francois Mori, AP)

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Paris - Police arrested around 100 protesters in Paris on Thursday in hopes of preventing new scenes of violence in the streets as thousands staged the latest march against French labour reforms.

Most were arrested for carrying objects that could be used as projectiles, police said, nine days after a previous protest had turned violent.

As President Francois Hollande vowed his Socialist government would "go all the way" to enact the reforms, about 2 000 riot police deployed to the historic Place de la Bastille where the march kicked off in the early afternoon.

The march was given the go-ahead after bitter negotiations in which the government first tried to ban it on security grounds, before backing down and agreeing to allow a short, tightly contained route.

The 1.6km route took thousands of marchers from the Place de la Bastille to the Seine, looping around the Arsenal Basin before returning to the square.

Many owners of boats and barges that are usually moored in the basin had moved them out of the way to the nearby Canal Saint Martin.

The threat of a demonstration ban - which would have been the first in 54 years - only deepened the rancour between the government and unions who accuse Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls of flouting democratic values.

Eric Coquerel of France's Left Party said that in a "normal democracy, Manuel Valls would resign", following the prime minister's vocal support for a ban.

Valls warned that fresh violence would not be tolerated after the last protest on June 14 saw bloody clashes just four days after the start of the Euro 2016 football tournament hosted by France.

Two police officers were hospitalised, while another 26 were injured.

Last week masked protesters smashed up storefronts and attacked a children's hospital, shattering some windows, while others hurled projectiles at police, who made dozens of arrests.

Around 100 people were barred from Thursday's march, and police seized motorcycle helmets, scarves and other objects that could be used to conceal protesters' identities.

Ahead of the march, workers hammered plywood onto the glass panels of bus stops around the Place de la Bastille to prevent new breakage.

Terror fears, hooligans

The Solidaires union meanwhile denounced a decision to equip the police with stun grenades, issuing a statement saying the devices have injured hundreds.

Unions are protesting a series of labour market reforms that Valls had to force through parliament in May to avoid a vote, even after the bill was significantly watered down.

However, after more than three months of protests and strikes over the legislation, neither side is willing to budge.

Hardline unions have vowed to keep up the pressure until their demands to further revise the bill are met.

The row has weighed heavily on an already overstretched police force dealing with months of terror fears and securing the Euro football championship, which has been marred by hooligan violence.

Thursday's march will be the 10th in a wave of protests against the government's disputed labour reforms that kicked off in March, with many descending into violence, notably in Paris and the western cities of Rennes and Nantes.

Rennes saw new unrest on Thursday with protesters torching rubbish bins outside police headquarters, smashing storefronts and spray-painting slogans on walls.

The proposed labour reforms are aimed at making the job market more flexible and reducing high unemployment.

"We will go all the way because it is essential not only to allow businesses to be able to hire more" but to step up training that will lead to more jobs, Hollande said before the march.

Critics see the measures easing conditions for hiring and firing as too pro-business and a threat to cherished workers' rights.

A survey out on Sunday found that two in three French people are opposed to the labour bill, which is currently before the Senate.

Read more on:    france

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