Police and taxi drivers fought running battles using rubber bullets and stones at the main Paris airport early yesterday, blocking access to a small terminal for three hours.
The mini-riot followed the alleged brutal arrest of a taxi driver for failing to pay the monthly rent on his taxi licence. Road access to terminal three, the smallest of the three passenger sections of Charles de Gaulle airport, was obstructed from 1am to 4am.
The French interior ministry ordered an investigation into the incident and into reported tense relations between some drivers and a special police unit known as les boers.
"Things got out of hand. Projectiles were thrown at the police, who struck back," said the French Interior Minister, Brice Hortefeux.
Drivers said the clashes began after the special police taxi unit arrested a 38-year-old driver called Zine, who was accused of failing to pay the monthly "rent" of €2,400 (£2,100) to the owner of his taxi badge, or licence. Other drivers protested that the arrest was unnecessarily brutal and that the police had no jurisdiction in a private dispute. One driver interviewed by French radio, Tarek Moktad, said that there had been growing tensions between the special police unit and taxi drivers who queued for return fares at Charles de Gaulle airport.
"The police stop us from smoking, from playing cards and from praying," he said. "We want the government officials to come here and see the situation for themselves." When one driver had been arrested "violently", he said, "the whole profession got into a temper".
Until a decade ago, taxi driving in Paris was an almost exclusively male, middle-aged and white profession. But many women and men from immigrant backgrounds have bought or rented taxi badges and drivers say that tensions with the 70-strong police taxi unit sometimes have racial undertones. The police deny the claim and say they have been trying to persuade the drivers to return to Paris and comb the streets for fares rather than allow their cars to pile up in excessive numbers of up to 300 at the airport.
Djillali Ouanfouf, the secretary general of the Paris taxi drivers defence union, said that his members had planned a demonstration at Charles de Gaulle airport. "Under the law, the police have no right to get involved in disputes between the people who rent out cars and badges and those who hire them," he said.
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