Flights cancelled as French protests turn violent

Paris police fire tear gas as “Black Tuesday” protesters, including taxi drivers, block roads and throw smoke bombs.

Police used tear gas to push back protesting taxi drivers, upset at their loss of market share to Uber [EPA]
Police used tear gas to push back protesting taxi drivers, upset at their loss of market share to Uber [EPA]

Paris police fired tear gas and taxi drivers lit bonfires on a major highway during nationwide strikes and protests over working conditions and competition from non-traditional services such as Uber.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls agreed to an emergency meeting with taxi drivers on Tuesday afternoon, in an apparent attempt to defuse tensions.

The “Black Tuesday” protests are the latest challenge to the Socialist government as it tries to modernise the economy and find France’s place in an increasingly globalised, online marketplace.

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Hundreds of flights were cancelled as air traffic controllers joined civil servants, hospital workers and teachers for the day of strikes.

At Orly airport, one protester was injured in the leg when a shuttle bus forced its way through a blockade. Police said the bus driver was arrested.

About 300 taxi drivers, furious over upstart competitors such as Uber, blocked the capital’s ring road at a key intersection in the west of the city, lighting fires and throwing smoke bombs.

Dozens of taxi drivers tried to march on to an eight-lane bypass, but police pushed them back with tear gas. 

“Today our survival is at stake, we are fed up of meetings and negotiations,” said Ibrahima Sylla, spokesman of the Taxis de France collective.

Nineteen protesters were arrested from a total of 1,200 drivers on strike around the capital, police said.

“There is a right to protest … even during a state of emergency,” said Valls. “But violence is unacceptable.”

Adding to the chaos, one in five flights in and out of Paris – affecting both Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports – was cancelled because of a strike by air traffic controllers over pay and conditions.

Air France said it would operate all its long-haul flights and more than 80 percent of its short and medium-haul flights in France and elsewhere in Europe, but that “last-minute delays or cancellations cannot be ruled out.”

Some 300 taxi drivers, furious over upstart competitors such as Uber, blocked the French capital’s ring road [EPA]

Budget airline Ryanair said that it had cancelled more than 200 flights, and EasyJet had cut 35 flights, mostly within France but also affecting Italy, Switzerland and Spain.

The taxi strike could  mean access to airports in Paris, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Marseilles was “greatly disrupted”, Air France warned.

France banned Uber’s low-cost UberPOP service – which used unlicensed drivers – a year ago, but taxi dispatchers in Paris say business has still shrunk by 20 to 30 percent.

Uber flouted the UberPOP ban for several months, triggering a spate of violent protests in June.

The San Francisco-based company finally shut down the low-cost service in July after two of its French bosses were arrested and charged with “misleading commercial practices [and] complicity in the illegal exercise of the taxi profession”.

Meanwhile some 5.6 million civil servants were told to down tools to protest against labour reforms proposed last September affecting pay and career advancement.

The striking unions – who led up to 120 demonstrations across France on what the daily Le Parisien newspaper dubbed “Black Tuesday” – also claim they are protesting against job losses totalling some 150,000 since 2007 and say the hospital sector is especially in need of new jobs.

Source : News Agencies


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