French labour unrest: Tear gas, blocked roads, president firm

Tear gas briefly choked a Left Bank neighbourhood and truckers blocked highways in Provence and Normandy in new tensions over a French labour bill Tuesday — but the president insisted that he won't abandon the contested reform.

PARIS — Tear gas briefly choked a Left Bank neighbourhood and truckers blocked highways in Provence and Normandy in new tensions over a French labour bill Tuesday — but the president insisted that he won’t abandon the contested reform.

France is facing a tense week of strikes and other union action against the bill, which has met fierce resistance in Parliament and in the streets.

A peaceful march Tuesday by union members that wound through Paris’ tourist-heavy Montparnasse neighbourhood was interrupted when masked protesters threw projectiles, including broken cafe chairs.

Riot police responded with tear gas that rose up in the surrounding streets. A bus stop was scrawled with graffiti in English reading “Tourist go home, refugees welcome.” The march later resumed.

Truck drivers joined in the protests Tuesday, blocking roads around Marseille and the western cities of Nantes and Le Mans. They fear a drop in income because the bill cuts overtime pay.

Marseille union leader Laurent Casanova said the goal “is to paralyze traffic … and block the economy.” Truck driver John Bosco in Vitrolles, near Marseille, said the law could cut 1,000 to 1,500 euros ($1,130 to $1,700) from his annual income.

“I will not back down” on the bill, President Francois Hollande said Tuesday on Europe-1 radio, arguing that the new law is necessary to boost hiring and investment.

“There are too many governments that have backed down, which is why I found the country in such a state in 2012,” he said.

France’s economy has stagnated for years after successive governments tried reforms but failed or ceded to street protests.

A crowd of protesters followed Hollande to a pharmaceutical laboratory he was visiting Tuesday, demanding the law be abandoned.

Protests against the bill have often turned violent. Hollande said those who come to protests just “to break things” would be punished, saying that 350 police officers have been injured in recent weeks and 60 people convicted.

Paris police chief Michel Cadot blamed the violence on 100-150 people, mainly ultra-leftists — a smaller number than in previous demonstrations. Cadot, speaking on BFM-TV, said a dozen people were arrested and there were no major injuries.

Paris police banned 40 people from taking part in Tuesday’s march through the capital, prompting some to file an emergency complaint for the alleged violation of their fundamental right to demonstrate. Nine bans were lifted.

Police are taking to the streets on Wednesday — during their lunch breaks — to protest what they contend is a growing wave of ire against them.

The police chief said 200 officers have been injured — two seriously — in some 60 demonstrations since mid-March.

Hollande insisted he supports the right to demonstrate despite a state of emergency still in place after last year’s deadly extremist attacks in Paris.

“That’s part of freedom,” he said.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Suncor logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 2, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Suncor Energy and Atco working together on potential hydrogen project

Atco would construct and operate pipeline and hydrogen storage facilities

Colonial Pipeline joue un rôle de premier plan dans le transport de l’essence, du kérosène, du diésel et d’autres produits pétroliers du Texas vers la côte Est.(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Pipeline officials hope most service will be back by weekend

Colonial Pipeline delivers about 45 per cent of the fuel consumed on East Coast

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves after holding a press conference in Ottawa on Friday, May 7, 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Health care providers, advocates cry foul over stalled action on pharmacare

Expert panel appointed by the Liberals recommended public pharmacare system

Denis Shapovalov, of Canada, tosses the ball for a serve to Ilya Ivashka, of Belarus, during the Miami Open tennis tournament Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
Canadian Denis Shapovalov books spot in second round of Italian Open

Shapovalov to face world Stefano Travaglia, of Italy

This picture provided and painted by Bob Dylan in 2020 is called “New York Subways”. The largest collection of Bob Dylan’s artwork ever seen will go on display later this year in the U.S. “Retrospectum” spans six decades of Dylan’s art, featuring more than 120 of the artist’s paintings, drawings and sculptures. Building on the original “Retrospectum” exhibition that premiered in Shanghai, China, in 2019, the new version will include new, never-before-seen pieces and additional artworks from a brand-new series called “American Pastoral.” (Bob Dylan via AP)
Bob Dylan artwork to go on display in the U.S. this year

‘Retrospectrum’ spans six decades of Dylan’s art

FILE - Seth Rogen appears at the “Motherless Brooklyn” premiere in Los Angeles on Oct. 28, 2019. Rogen is the latest to jump into the podcast world. He’s making a series for the Stitcher podcast company where he interviews people with unusual stories to tell. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP, File)
Actor Seth Rogen to tell stories in his own Stitcher podcast

Rogen to invite musicians, actors and comedians

Vancouver Canucks’ Nils Hoglander (36) scores on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit (30) during first-period NHL action in Winnipeg on Monday May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Hoglander scores twice as Vancouver Canucks dump slumping Winnipeg Jets 3-1

Hoglander scores twice as Vancouver Canucks dump slumping Winnipeg Jets 3-1

Edmonton Oilers' Dominik Kahun (21) celebrates with teammate Connor McDavid (97) after scoring the third goal against Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen (34) during second-period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canadiens clinch playoff spot with single point, fall to McDavid and Oilers in OT

Canadiens clinch playoff spot with single point, fall to McDavid and Oilers in OT

Rory McIlroy tees off on the fourth hole during the fourth round of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament at Quail Hollow on Sunday, May 9, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)
McIlroy ends 18 months without winning at Quail Hollow

McIlroy ends 18 months without winning at Quail Hollow

Canada , left to right, lead Briane Meilleur, third Val Sweeting, skip Kerri Einarson, and second Shannon Birchard discuss strategy against Sweden in a qualification game at the Women's World Curling Championship in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, May 8, 2021. Both of Canada's teams were shut out of the medals, marking the first time ever that Canada did not reach the podium at either the men's or women's worlds in the same season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Bubble Wrap: Fresh questions for Canada after medal shutout at curling worlds

Bubble Wrap: Fresh questions for Canada after medal shutout at curling worlds

Most Read