Months of mass demonstrations and violence linked to the Euro 2016 football tournament have left French police begging for mercy. A heated combination of protests against controversial changes to France’s employment laws and outbreaks of violence by Russian and British football fans has taken its toll, leading a union leader to beg for a reprieve for French law enforcement.
Protests opposing Francois Hollande’s proposals to relax France’s labour code began in March and have been called the largest and longest-lasting since the French Revolution. While the government argues the changes are crucial to lower unemployment, protesters claim they are bad for workers’ rights. Countrywide protests have included strikes and blockades of oil refineries and hundreds of fuel depots. Workers also downed tools at the state-owned rail company.
On June 14, some masked protesters hurled paving slabs, smashed shop windows, and burned cars on the city streets. Despite relatively little mainstream media coverage of the mass protests, a series of violent images emerged showing police responding brutally with tear gas, batons, and water cannons. Around 60 people were arrested, and 29 police officers and 11 protesters were injured. Shortly after, workers’ unions and student organisations called for more street protests and strikes, on June 23 and June 28, to reject the new labour laws currently being debated in the Senate.
Earlier this week, France’s main police union, Alliance, pleaded with workers to postpone Thursday’s planned day of demonstrations to give the police time to recover.
“We’re asking for this demonstration to be postponed, along with any other static protests as our colleagues on all fronts are exhausted, worn out and tired,” Frederic Lagache, Alliance deputy secretary general said.
Describing the protests as repetitive and very violent, he said the police are too exhausted to cope with them — especially on top of dealing with terrorism and violence linked to the hosting of Euro 2016.
Despite the pleas for respite, the government gave the green light to the demonstrations — but only if they were confined to a small area of the city. At least 85 people were arrested in the capital as thousands took part in the largely peaceful protests. Union officials said 60,000 people attended the march, but police said the number was closer to 20,000.