Doctors, nurses and administrative staff marched without incident in the capital and other French cities to demand the government keep its promise to overhaul France's hospital system in response to the coronavirus crisis.
But when demonstrators arrived in front of the Les Invalides complex in central Paris, a small group of people clad in black set fire to a vehicle and pelted the police with projectiles, chanting “everybody hates the police.”
In response police fired tear gas and charged, in tense and chaotic scenes.
“Violent groups are trying to escalate tensions at the peaceful demonstration held by healthcare workers,” police headquarters in Paris tweeted.
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Street furniture and a car was set alight. Photo: AFP
By 2pm, 16 people had been arrested.
Healthcare workers have long complained about low salaries and insufficient staff at French hospitals, leading to a series of strikes over the past year to demand funding increases.
The French healthcare system has been under severe pressure due to the coronavirus epidemic, although officials insist it has largely withstood the challenge.
But many healthcare workers have insisted that the nightly rounds of applause for caregivers treating COVID-19 patients would ring hollow if the government did not back up the public recognition of their work with additional resources.
Police fired tear gas as trouble flared. Photo: AFP
“We were portrayed as superheroes because we worked overtime and protected our patients without enough equipment. We were promised hirings and funding but we haven't seen any of it,” said a nurse, Latifa, who works at a hospital in southern city Grenoble.
The 50-year-old earns €1,565 a month.
“Every day I had a knot in my stomach from the fear of bringing the virus home,” said home carer Amelie Membanda, who has a three-year-old boy and also works in Grenoble.
“We were there for our patients, even without masks, gloves or other protective gear. For the elderly who no longer had any visitors or had no family, we were everything,” Membanda said, who earns around €1,100 a month.