French police on Wednesday (June 22) banned a planned demonstration this week against labour reforms, bringing to a head a stand-off between the government and trade unions which have been spearheading protests against the changes for months.
Violence on the fringes of protests has stretched a police force already challenged by the demands of a state of emergency in place since Islamist militant attacks on Paris last November.
On top of anti-terrorist duties, police are under pressure from fan violence at the Euro 2016 soccer tournament which France is hosting.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve this week proposed a static rally as a compromise to a march planned by the unions for Thursday. But unions said that was unacceptable and proposed an alternative route instead.
“After close examination, these alternative proposals address neither the security needs of people and property, nor the demands on police resources given the terrorist threat,” a police department statement said.
“Under these conditions the Prefect of Police believes he has no choice but to ban the demonstration.”
In a joint statement, the hardline CGT and FO – two unions still opposed to the reforms even though others are backing them – demanded an immediate meeting with Cazeneuve.
A draft law, supported by the government, overhauls labour rules which would make hiring and firing easier.
The proposed labour reforms are designed to boost the economy. But they have split President Francois Hollande’s governing Socialist Party and are decried by critics as an erosion of workers’ rights that will cost jobs rather than create them.
French police broke strike picket lines and cleared roadblocks associated with strikes and protests in earlier stages.
But while these confrontations have subsided, violence by groups of youths on the fringes of protest marches has continued.
During a June 14 protest, hundreds of rioters ransacked shop fronts, clashed with police, tore up street paving and smashed the windows of a children’s hospital during running battles in Paris. Police responded with tear gas and water cannon with dozens of people hurt on both sides.
(Reporting by Simon Carraud; writing by Maya Nikolaeva; Editing by Andrew Callus and Richard Balmforth)