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Roads blocked and flights cancelled in French strikes
Taxi drivers block the famed Champs-Elysees in Paris. Photo: AFP

Roads blocked and flights cancelled in French strikes

Ben McPartland · 26 Jan 2016, 16:36

Published: 26 Jan 2016 16:36 GMT+01:00
Updated: 26 Jan 2016 16:36 GMT+01:00

 
Main events on Tuesday:

Angry French taxi drivers blocked key roads with burning tyres on Tuesday, while air traffic controllers joined civil servants, hospital workers and teachers for a day of strikes.

At Orly airport one protester was injured in the leg when a shuttle bus forced its way through a blockade. Police said the bus driver was arrested.

Police made over 20 arrests, most at Porte Maillot on the western edge of Paris where protesting taxi drivers burned tyres on the Paris ring road.

The arrests were made on the grounds of "violence, carrying of arms and starting a fire", the police said.

"Today our survival is at stake, we are fed up of meetings and negotiations," said Ibrahima Sylla, spokesman of the Taxis de France collective.

The protest started early on Tuesday morning as taxi drivers blocked roads around major cities like Paris and Marseille and held "go slows" on roads, causing huge traffic jams.

Police in Paris advised drivers to stay off the roads, especially the peripherique ring road.

TV images showed riot police clearing a way for firefighters to extinguish burning tyres on the péripherique, as drivers weaved their way around the barriers.

 

France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls condemned the violence.

"There is a right to protest... even during a state of emergency," he said. "But violence is unacceptable."

Uber, the company at which many taxi drivers have directed their ire, was given police guard at its HQ in Paris on Tuesday.

Those in Paris had been warned not to risk travelling later than 5am if they wanted to make it to the airport on Monday morning at all.

Among them was Rosi Golan, an American singer songwriter, who left home at 4am for a flight scheduled to take off seven hours later.

"I'm definitely frustrated, sleepless and irritated," she told The Local. 
 
"This is not how I wanted to spend my last night in Paris. I think it's kind of outrageous that they are just straight up blocking people's paths, but I guess I understand that people are fighting for their livelihoods."

One Parisian who struggled to get round the ring road told The Local that taxi drivers deserve what they get.

"We are sick of it. All they do is stop us from getting to work," an architect named Laurence said. "They make no effort at all, they are stuck in the past.

"They never stop for us, they are never kind, and then they just block the roads. I have absolutely no sympathy for them at all."

Tensions remained high at protest sites across the country. There were also reports of a private hire cab driver being beaten up in the northern city of Lille.

The Local's Katie Warren said the atmosphere at Porte Maillot was fairly calm.

"The taxi drivers say they just want people to abide by the rules. They feel the government has done nothing to protect them."

A driver named Stephane said: "The public takes taxis, so it's in the interest of everyone. We're all fighting the same battle. Hoping that the government will react and do something. It's been years that they've been making promises and they're doing nothing at all."

Getting to and from Paris's airports proved difficult on Tuesday.

At Orly airport there were reports that drivers threw stones at a bus's windows and forced passengers to get off and walk. Passengers of taxis not participating in the strike were also reportedly told to walk. 

There were similar road blocks around Charles de Gaule airport (see photo above) to the north of Paris, although no reports of any trouble.

Elsewhere in the country a taxi drivers union leader in Toulouse warned that protesters were in it for the long haul.

"It could last one day or two days, we have enough food to survive," he told BFM TV.

It wasn't just on the roads that there were travel problems, but also in the skies as air traffic controllers went on strike in protest over pay and recruitment.

The French civil aviation authority DGAC has called on airlines to cancel one in five flights as a preventive measure ahead of the air traffic controllers' strike.

Air France said it would operate all of its long-haul flights and more than 80 percent of its short- and medium-haul flights in France and elsewhere in Europe, but that "last-minute delays or cancellations cannot be ruled out."

Noting that the controllers' strike was coinciding with the taxi drivers' action, the airline warned its passengers that access to Paris's Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, as well as those of Toulouse, Marseille and Bordeaux, could be "greatly disrupted".

Story continues below…

Ryanair said it had cancelled around 200 flights. EasyJet said it had cancelled 35 flights, mainly within France but also to or from Switzerland, Italy and Spain.

Civil servants and teachers

Hundreds of thousands of civil servants and teachers are also on strike on Tuesday, motivated by anger over a pay freeze and a poor salaries.

Creches around the country will be closed and most schools will have to do without teachers.

The leftist FO union says that, with inflation, a July 2010 freeze on the index used to calculate salaries has cost civil servants eight percent of their purchasing power.

The striking unions -- who led up to 120 demonstrations across France on what the daily Le Parisien dubbed "black Tuesday" -- also claim they are protesting against job losses totaling some 150,000 since 2007 and say the
hospital sector is especially in need of new jobs.

There will be a number of protests in towns across France (see map below), in particular in Paris where teachers will march on Tuesday afternoon.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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