Location France France

Scores arrested as French labour reform protest turns violent

Police in Paris arrested 130 people on Tuesday amid country-wide protests by students opposed to controversial labour reforms being championed by the Socialist government, the same day the bill was due to go before parliament.

The arrests were made after some of the demonstrators began throwing projectiles including stones, glass bottles and eggs at security forces, Paris police said.

Police responded with tear gas and charged the protesters several times to disperse the huge crowds.

The French cities of Marseille, Lille, Nantes, Rennes and Strasbourg also saw large-scale protests.

Commuter and regional travel has also seen some disruption, with rail workers joining the strikes.

Protests last week rallied around 1.2 million people across the country, according to organisers. Police put the figure much lower, at 390,000 protesters.

While mostly peaceful, some protests have ended with violent clashes between students and riot police. A policeman was taken into custody after a video emerged of two officers holding up a 15-year-old boy while another punched him during a previous protest, causing outrage across France.

“We need a lot of people at the next demonstrations tomorrow and Saturday,” William Martinet, president of the UNEF student union, told reporters on Monday. “The number of young people who will be on the streets will be decisive in bringing about change.”

The movement against the labour reforms has also spawned wider reaching protests drawing comparisons to the enormous anti-austerity movement in Spain. Several hundred people have been occupying the iconic Place de la République in the capital for several nights.

France’s Socialist government says the labour reform is necessary as it will encourage businesses to start hiring again. President François Hollande has staked his reputation on bringing down the country’s stubbornly high unemployment rate, stating that he will not run for re-election in 2017 if he does not succeed.

But angry students and union members say the reforms are an attack on workers’ rights, pave the way for an end to France’s cherished 35-hour work week and will simply allow companies to fire workers more easily.

France’s education and labour ministers are scheduled to meet representatives of both university and high school student groups on Wednesday for talks.

“We need to take the time to discuss … to improve the text,” Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said on Monday.

A first reading of the bill is scheduled at the National Assembly on Tuesday, with some 800 amendments already on the table in light of the backlash.


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