Several thousand people marched through Paris on Sunday in a “Day of Anger” against embattled President Francois Hollande which ended in clashes between police and protesters.
Security forces used tear gas to disperse several hundred youths who lobbed police with bottles, fireworks, iron bars and dustbins. Police on Monday said at least 250 people had been arrested after the clashes, during which 12 officers were injured.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls condemned the violence “by individuals, varied groups from the extreme and ultra-right, whose only goal is to create unrest”.
The march organised by a motley group of some 50 small and mainly right-wing organisations, however failed to attract bigger anti-Hollande movements.
Organisers claimed a turnout of some 120,000 people, however police estimated there were 17,000 people at the protest, held under pouring rain.
The demonstrators railed against a slew of policies under Hollande – the most unpopular French president of modern times – such as last year's law allowing gay marriage.
Some called for France's withdrawal from the European Union, while others urged the respect of freedom of speech, a reference to the government's recent decision to ban a show by controversial comic Dieudonne, whose sketches have been deemed anti-Semitic.
A Jewish students union the UEJF condemned “anti-Semitic slogans and Nazi salutes” by some protesters
“This 'Day of Anger' has turned into a day of hate,” said its president Sacha Reingewirtz.
Many in the crowd complained about Hollande's tangled love life a day after the president announced his split with his partner Valerie Trierweiler following an affair with a younger actress.
“There are enough scandals about the president, he is bringing dishonour to France,” a 60-year-old woman who only identified herself as Marion, told AFP.
“You are here to say you are fed up,” an organiser told the crowd, adding that France's leaders “are more preoccupied with their affairs …than unemployment.”
One of the groups that took part were Hommen (see below) , who set themselves up as a rival to notorious topless protesters Femen. They were one of the many fringe movements against gay marriage. In the tweet below they are seen sheltering from the pouring rain in Paris.
— Diego-san (@vinceakadiego) January 26, 2014
Naturally the provocative band of Femen members also made an appearance on Sunday in a bid to provoke the protesters, but they were quickly arrested by police before any real trouble could be caused.
Police brutally Stopped and arrested shepherds of FEMEN. A.C.A.B. pic.twitter.com/7bELetylmt
— FEMEN (@FEMEN_Movement) January 26, 2014
— Lucie de Rib (@LuciedeRib) January 26, 2014
France, the eurozone's second largest economy, is battling huge levels of unemployment. Hollande recently announced plans for €50 billion ($68 billion) in spending cuts between 2015 and 2017 to revive the economy.
Several parties and organisations such as the far-right National Front did not take part in the protest.