France braces for riots as protests turn violent

A menacing new spectre hung over the French pension reform dispute yesterday – the threat of a re-run of the multi-racial suburban riots of five years ago.

As petrol shortages spread and the country braced for a new day of strikes and marches today, there were violent incidents and clashes between police and youths in a dozen cities and suburbs around France.

Although the incidents occurred on the fringes of demonstrations by Lycée (sixth-form) students, most of the violence came from roaming groups of hooded youths who were not directly involved in the protests against pension reform. Cars were turned over or burned and shops looted and smashed in Nanterre, west of Paris, and in Saint Denis, north of the capital, which was the starting point of the riots of October and November 2005.

There were also violent incidents on the edges of student demonstrations in other Paris suburbs and in Lyon, Rouen, Roubaix and Nantes. In all cases, both police and student leaders blamed independent, mobile, racially-mixed groups of casseurs – or "vandals" – who were not part of the pension protests themselves. Their motives were unclear, but similar violence by disaffected youths has erupted on the edges of other peaceful student protests in France in recent years.

Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets and arrested almost 200 young people in more than a dozen incidents across the country. The government – already facing a disruptive pension reform protest by unions and Lycée students – will be desperate to avoid the kind of violent police response which could touch off more serious rioting in the tense multi-racial suburbs of French cities.

Yesterday's incidents, though none very serious in themselves, added to the sense of a nation spiralling into a multi-layered crisis. Over 3,000 – out of 13,000 – French petrol stations ran out of fuel yesterday after panic-buying by motorists intensified. Eleven out of 12 petrol refineries remained on strike. Flying pickets blocked a score of petrol distribution depots. Others were opened up by police.

A chain of pickets defeated attempts by the authorities to reopen a refinery at Grandpuits, east of Paris. Key employees were ordered to return to work under the threat of legal action but pickets from the refinery and other industries blocked entrances to the site.

There were also sporadic blockages and go-slows by small convoys of lorries on the principal French motorways.

All of these actions are part of an "unofficial" second front opened by militant union branches against President Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to raise the minimum retirement age to 62 by 2018. At least 3,000,000 people are expected to join demonstrations today, and many public sector workers to stop work for 24 hours, in a sixth union "day of action" in seven weeks.

The more moderate union federations want to continue their soft or "political" strategy of one-day protests to build public anger against Mr Sarkozy. They hope that that this will help to oust him in 2012. A centre-left president and government could then reverse the reform. But the moderate national union leadership fears that the harder-line, confrontational strategy of more militant unions branches could anger public opinion and present Mr Sarkozy with a moral victory.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform