France faces race to unblock country in time for Euro 2016

Rail strikes, bin strikes, pilots' strikes, protests...They don't look like being resolved in time for the big Euro 2016 kick off on Friday.

France faces race to unblock country in time for Euro 2016

The French government was facing a race against time on Thursday to “unblock” the country in time for the big Euro 2016 kick off on Friday.

But things were not looking too optimistic as rail strikes continued to cause transport chaos on Thursday and industrial action by rubbish collectors has led to bins and refuse sacks piling up on the streets of several cities including Paris (see photo below).

French Environment Minister Segolene Royal called for an end Thursday to “the mess” caused by transport and rubbish strikes that threaten to blight the football fiesta.

“People want things to return to normal, for the mess to end,” Royal told iTele, saying it was “not right for a modern country to continue being permanently disrupted.”

On Thursday the country faces its first major security challenge of the Euro 2016 football championships with a giant open-air concert at the 90,000-capacity fan zone in Paris.

Superstar French DJ David Guetta will play for the crowd at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, a day before hosts France face Romania in the tournament's opening match at Paris' Stade de France.   

While the security threat has topped the agenda the unresolved strikes over labour reform have provided another unwelcome distraction to the showpiece event, with France desperately trying to limit the harm done to its image abroad.

Rubbish piles up on streets of Paris as strikers kick up stink(Photo: AFP)

The immediate concern of the government was trying to end the industrial unrest and political turmoil over controversial labour reforms that look set to continue into the championships despite their pleas for unions to halt their action.

On Thursday new protests were held at Rungis, which hosts France's famous food market. Trade union members blocked roads into the town, causing chaos at the daily market.

In the latest of four months of strikes, union supporters blockaded waste incineration centres in central Paris, causing uncollected rubbish to pile up in 10 of the capital's 20 districts.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo called for an end to the strike action and promised to get the rubbish collected as soon as possible.

“We are redeploying staff to sort out the situation where it's most critical today,” Hidalgo said.

Uncollected black refuse sacks were also accumulating in Saint-Etienne, the central city that will host four Euro 2016 matches, as well as Marseille in the south.

Rail chaos

Three oil refineries run by Total were still on strike, although there was apparently no impact on petrol stations. Port workers at Le Havre have also voted to continue their strike.

Rail workers said they would continue to disrupt services on Thursday, extending their action to a ninth day in Paris and several other regions.

Only one in three trains were running between the centre of Paris and Charles de Gaulle airport.

Elsewhere TGV, TER regional trains and Intercité services were all badly affected by the industrial action on Thursday.

Unions were still chewing over an offer from the SNCF rail operator to end their dispute.

Hundreds of union activists lit flares at a protest rally in the Gare du Nord station, the departure point for Eurostar trains to Britain and other services to northern Europe.

And in a separate dispute, theatre and film industry workers held an early morning demonstration outside the apartment building of Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri in protest at their own special set of working conditions.

The furious minister said the activists were “violating family life” and had gone too far.

Negotiations continued between Air France and pilots' unions, who have threatened to ground planes for four days from Saturday, when an estimated two million foreign visitors will be arriving to watch the football.

“The government, through its obstinate approach, carries the entire responsibility for the conflict continuing,” the hardline CGT union, which has spearheaded the strikes, said.

The CGT wants the Socialist government to scrap the labour reforms, which unions say are stacked in favour of employers and will chip away at job security.

President Francois Hollande has refused to back down, arguing the measures are necessary to cut unemployment and make it easier for companies to take on new staff and release them in a downturn.

Unions opposed to the labour reforms were planning a nationwide day of protests on Jun 14th and on Wednesday announced two further days of protests on June 23rd and une 28th.



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Amnesty condemns ‘arbitrary’ detentions during protest in Paris

A slate of detentions carried out on December 12 during a Paris protest by tens of thousands of people against France's controversial security bill were "arbitrary", Amnesty International France said on Monday.

Amnesty condemns 'arbitrary' detentions during protest in Paris
Photo: AFP

Out of 142 people who were arrested, including 124 who were taken into custody, “nearly 80 percent faced no charges in the end”, a study by the French branch of the rights watchdog concluded.

A similar proportion of detainees to charges laid was seen in the “yellow vest” movement that peaked in late 2018 and early 2019, according to Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz.

AIF, which joined an umbrella group opposed to the security bill, said it had “legitimate concerns over the possibility that there were arbitrary arrests and other violations of human rights”.

The legislation, since scrapped, would have restricted publication with so-called malicious intent of photos of on-duty police officers, a move condemned as a curb on press freedom.

AIF's Anne-Sophie Simpere, the report's author, told AFP the December 12th protest march in central Paris did not see “notable violence”, adding: “Nothing seems to justify what happened in terms of arrests or charges.”

The report focused on police questioning, medical certificates and judicial documents in 35 cases of people who were held but not charged. Two were held for nearly five hours, while the other 33 were held overnight.

A heavy police contingent preceded the marchers and flanked them on both sides, preventing any of them from leaving the protest, AFP journalists reported at the time.

On the basis of witness testimony and video footage, Amnesty said arrests were not preceded by “audible warnings” and at moments when no “significant disorder” was noted in the march.

Alexis Baudelin, a lawyer who was taken into custody, told AFP: “I was surprised by the strategy… At each intersection, the security forces charged on non-violent demonstrators without reason or warning.”

The offensive tactic was aimed at preventing the formation of “Black Bloc” anarchist groups after two consecutive weekends of violent demos in Paris, the police said later.

Amnesty also pointed to “detentions based on vague laws”, notably one against “taking part in a group with the aim of planning violence”, cited in 25 of the cases studied.

In only two of the cases studied had the detainees been carrying objects that could justify suspicions of violent intent.

“It's a catch-all offence,” Simpere said. “You punish an act before it is committed.”

Such lack of precision can “unduly infringe on human rights”, the report said.

Lara Bellini, whose 16-year-old son was held for 20 hours before being released without charge, told AFP: “They (the police) told me he belonged to a malicious band. It was incomprehensible… My son is an activist, but he is in no way a violent person.”

In five of the cases, police used a March 2019 law to slap a ban on appearing in Paris for up to six months.

The ban amounts to “punishment without trial” without even the possibility of appeal, Amnesty said, calling on parliament to scrap the legislation.