Fishermen in Brittany stay on strike

BRETON fishermen stayed on dry land yesterday while colleagues elsewhere returned to work after a week of violent demonstrations ended with the destruction of a historic building in Rennes.

Fishermen in the Channel ports, whose blockades halted ferry traffic on Friday night, returned to work, as did others in Normandy.

In Brittany, however, where the movement against low prices and cheap foreign competition started last week, fishermen awaited a meeting today to decide on further action. They have rejected two government packages of aid announced in the past few days.

An ultimatum to supermarkets to stop selling imported fish ends today, meaning new protests could target stores that do not comply. Some supermarkets were ransacked during the violence last week.

In Rennes, where the 17th- century Parlement de Bretagne, housing the regional appeals court, was still smouldering after it was devastated by fire on Friday night, there was criticism of police methods. The trouble started during a visit to the city by Edouard Balladur, the Prime Minister.

Edmond Herve, Rennes' Socialist mayor and a former health minister, said vandals had run amok 'under the impassive eyes of the forces of order'. Charles Pasqua, the Gaullist Interior Minister, replied by criticising 'the hypocrisy' of some local politicians who had encouraged the demonstration and then lamented its consequences.

The fire at the Parlement de Bretagne was not noticed until midnight. One theory is that it was caused by one of the many distress flares launched by fishermen during their demonstration.

Although the destruction of the building, one of Brittany's most valued historical monuments, was the most spectacular event, it distracted attention from the extreme violence of the demonstration that preceded it. Paving stones and metal objects, such as bolts, were thrown at riot police and some 70 people were hurt.

Officials said there had not been comparable violence in Rennes since the students' and workers' riots of 1968, which brought France to a halt. They criticised police chiefs for concentrating only on the security of the Prime Minister and allowing the protest to get out of hand. The incidents gave Mr Balladur his roughest taste of popular sentiment since he became Prime Minister last March.

Riding high in the opinion polls, he is tipped as the most likely successor to Francois Mitterrand in next year's presidential elections. A poll in this weekend's Le Figaro magazine still had Mr Balladur as the country's favourite politician, although he had dropped two points to 63 per cent.

Results of three parliamentary by-elections due last night were expected to show a swing to the left but, given low turnouts and the massive swing to the right in the general election last March, these could not be considered evidence of a significant disillusionment with the government.