Fishermen on rampage in France: Anger at cheap foreign imports leads to an orgy of destruction

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The Independent Online
ABOUT 1,200 Breton fishermen, angered by cheap foreign competition, ransacked the main Paris wholesale food markets early yesterday before heading off on a wrecking spree in the Channel ports. Trawlers blockaded Calais harbour, disrupting ferry services to Britain.

Travelling by coach to Paris, the fishermen, some carrying iron bars or rifles for firing distress flares, smashed up the Pavillon de la Maree, the fish-hall at the huge Rungis covered market, south of the capital, known as 'the belly of Paris', as food deliveries to the market started in the small hours of the morning.

Traders said they destroyed merchandise, French as well as imported, and smashed refrigeration and other equipment. Police said 17 people, 15 of them police officers, needed medical attention after the incidents which were reminiscent of a similar protest last winter.

Some 20 coaches then set off north along the A1 motorway. Near the Senlis tollgate 30 miles north of Paris, the fishermen stopped and emptied a truck carrying frozen fish. Some went on to Boulogne-sur-Mer, where there were more clashes with riot police. In a supermarket on the outskirts of the port, an estimated 300 protesters tipped the contents of deep-freezes into the aisles.

In Cherbourg, others poured diesel oil over 80 tons of mackerel being unloaded from a Scottish trawler, the Morning Star, port officials said. The protesters were guided by co- ordinators using citizens'- band radios to help them avoid the police.

On Wednesday, as fishermen in Brittany were already on strike, the government came up with a package of 300m francs (pounds 34m) to help fishermen, many of them officially recognised as being on the breadline. Half was earmarked to help them repay bank loans.

The rest included aid to families in difficulty, help for struggling ship-owners, reimbursement of fishermen's social charges and promotion for French fish products.

But the measures came too late to deter the fishermen, who had already staged some protests in Breton ports earlier in the week, from heading for the capital. They claim that their livelihood, after a prosperous time in the Eighties, is threatened, particularly by frozen fish sold in French ports by ships from former East Europe. Prices for fish began to drop in 1991 and some fishermen say that in some months they earn as little as 1,000 francs (pounds 116).

The fishermen's violent action was not the only cloud on the French industrial scene yesterday.

In Marseilles, workers from the Sud Marine shipyards, where receivership was announced last month, welded up port gates and stopped all ferry traffic between the city, Corsica and North Africa. In the Loire Valley, workers who had been occupying the Tampax factory at Joue-les-Tours in protest at lay-off plans freed its two top managers, who had been held in their offices since Tuesday morning.

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