Hooded youths rampaged through the Paris suburb of Nanterre yesterday morning, hurling stones and bottles and breaking windows in stores and city hall. The government threatened to send in elite paramilitary officers to quell the violence.
Riot police in black body armor forced striking workers away from blocked fuel depots in western France, restoring gasoline to areas where pumps were dry after weeks of protests over a proposed hike in the retirement age.
Riot officers in Nanterre sprayed tear gas but appeared unable to stop the violence in the town, the site of days of clashes around a high school shuttered by protests over a proposal to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 to help prevent the pension system from going bankrupt.
After months of largely peaceful disruptions, many protests erupted into violence this week as French President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed that his conservative party would pass the reform in a Senate vote expected today.
Sarkozy said yesterday that he would “carry the retirement reform through to the end.” Despite France’s tolerance for a long tradition of strikes and protest, official patience appeared to be waning after weeks of snarled traffic, canceled flights and dwindling gasoline supplies and, now, rising urban violence.
With nearly one-third of France’s gas stations dry, authorities stepped in without incident overnight to force open three fuel depots blocked by striking workers for days, French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said.
At one site in the western town of Donges, police formed a corridor along the road leading to the depot to allow trucks to pass in and out. Video footage showed officers peacefully herding striking workers away from one depot.
“The right to strike does not give anyone the right to prevent people from working or the right to block things, or the right to prevent travel,” Hortefeux said.
Hortefeux warned rioters that “the right to protest is not the right to break things, the right to set things on fire, the right to assault, the right to pillage.”
“We will use all means necessary to get these delinquents,” including the GIGN paramilitary police, he said. The police deployed so far have been CRS riot police, helmeted and wielding shields, sometimes firing tear gas or rubber bullets.
Over the past week, 1,423 people have been detained for -protest-related violence, he said, more than one-third of them on Tuesday. Of those, 123 are facing legal action. He said he ordered police to look at video surveillance to find more perpetrators, suggesting more arrests could be ahead.
He said 62 police officers have been injured in the violence over the past week.
Students plan new protests today, with a demonstration in Paris hours before the Senate is expected to approve the retirement measure.
Strikes continued yesterday at the SNCF national rail network, and one in three TGV high-speed train was canceled.
Unions staged a protest yesterday at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, where one-day strikes by air traffic controllers on Tuesday left about a third of flights canceled.
In Marseille, authorities intervened to re-open tunnels blocked by protesters yesterday. No buses were running in Marseille because unions were blocking the main bus depot.
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