Protesters ousted from Sorbonne; French train strikes resume

Rail workers in France resumed a strike Friday that is set to disrupt travel off-and-on through June. (Christophe Ena, AP)
Rail workers in France resumed a strike Friday that is set to disrupt travel off-and-on through June. (Christophe Ena, AP)

Paris riot police cleared out students seeking to occupy the Sorbonne university, and strikes shut down the Eiffel Tower and two-thirds of French trains on Friday – all part of a season of simmering national discontent.

Much of the anger centres on French President Emmanuel Macron, but he went on national TV on Thursday to declare that strikes and protests won't prevent him from overhauling France's economy.

Rail workers resumed a strike on Friday that is set to disrupt travel off-and-on through June. But the number of striking workers is down from previous actions, and international trains were largely maintained.

The Eiffel Tower announced that it is closed to the public on Friday because of a strike by security personnel. Their demands were not immediately clear.

The Sorbonne announced its iconic Left Bank site is closed on Friday for security reasons after the Thursday night police operation. While about 200 students were evacuated, a few hundred others gathered outside, chanting angrily at police, though the incident ended peacefully.

A nucleus of student protests

The site was a nucleus of student protests 50 years ago in May 1968, when strikes and university occupations paralysed France's economy in a pivotal moment in modern French history.

Students at campuses around France are now protesting admissions reforms that they fear threaten access to public university for all high school graduates. Macron on Thursday dismissed the student protesters as "professional agitators" and ridiculed some of their demands.

While the 1968 protesters were seeking to overturn old ways, today's workers and students are fighting to maintain the status quo – including hard-fought worker rights that Macron says are incompatible with today's global economy.

The 40-year-old French leader said on Thursday he's determined to push ahead with reforms to the national rail authority SNCF, to prepare it to open up to competition.

Commuters squeezed into scarce trains on Friday and electronic display boards showed disrupted traffic as SNCF workers kicked off a new two-day strike.

"We have to leave earlier, we arrive late at work. We have no choice. I'll have to leave earlier this evening to catch a train," said commuter Sandra Loretti at the Gare Saint-Lazare station in northwest Paris. "We take the car, extra journey, extra time, extra tiredness."

Hospital staff, retirees, lawyers and magistrates are also holding protests over reforms by Macron's government. The president will go on national television again on Sunday, answering questions for two hours from BFM television and investigative website Mediapart.

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