French lorry drivers defiant despite deal

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The Independent Online
FRENCH lorry drivers pressed on with their blockade of main roads yesterday despite government concessions on new driving licence laws and working conditions. One driver died, bringing the death toll in nine days of protests to five.

It was difficult to tell whether the drivers' defiance was a last stand or evidence that their movement had become more determined. Early yesterday, riot police moved on many of the roadblocks, which have numbered up to 200, generally prompting the drivers to move off without resistance. But at Calais, drivers returned to blockade the port again, although Le Havre, Boulogne and Caen remained clear.

Tragedy struck near the northern town of Maubeuge, near the Belgian border, where one driver, trying to persuade colleagues to stand firm, was crushed to death when he slipped under a lorry which was leaving a roadblock. Four other people, car drivers, were killed in accidents caused by the protests over the weekend.

Radio reports said the Maubeuge accident had been distorted in its retelling in different parts of the country, and many protesters were convinced the victim had died because of police action. If true, this will probably strengthen their resolve.

At a crossroads near Lyons police fired tear-gas and then charged drivers who refused to budge. Three protesters and two police were injured. Demonstrators said police clubbed customers in a cafe where drivers said they had been angered by the news from Maubeuge.

Drivers' unions, who represent a fraction of the men on the barricades, had reached agreement on softening the new driving licence system in overnight talks with the Transport and Labour ministers. The unions then ordered the drivers to stop their protest. But new blockades sprang up elsewhere or departing drivers formed operation escargot (snail operation) convoys and drove at walking pace down the motorways to slow following traffic.

Perhaps the most galling incident for the authorities was the return to Phalempin, near Lille, of some 50 lorries to replace a barricade dispersed on Monday by police with the help of an army AMX-30 tank. That roadblock, on the Lille-Paris A1 motorway, was the first significant barricade erected when the movement started a week before. However, it broke up of its own accord after a few hours when police regrouped near by.

Paris fails to win deal, page 11