Paris labour protest takes place without violence; govt firm

PARIS – Tens of thousands of workers marched peacefully Thursday in Paris to protest the government’s planned labour reforms, joining a demonstration that authorities had considered banning due to fears of violence.

Other protests also took place in France’s major cities to oppose the government’s bill to make France’s 35-hour workweek longer and layoffs easier, which is currently being debated in the Senate.

French President Francois Hollande vowed in a speech Thursday he will not give up on the labour reforms.

“It’s crucial to help businesses hire more and allow more training for people who are least likely to find a job,” he said.

No clashes were observed in the capital as the protest ended, but a small group remained on the Bastille plaza, encircled by police. Security was high and Paris police took at least 85 people into preventative detention, most for possessing objects that could be used as projectiles.

Similar protests against the legislation in recent months have degenerated into clashes between riot police and radicals.

The Paris protesters marched along the 1.6 kilometre (1-mile) route, singing and shouting slogans like “No amendment, no negotiation! Withdraw, withdraw the law.” Unions estimated the crowd at 60,000, while police put the number at around 20,000.

“There was no damage. There were no clashes. There wasn’t a single tear gas grenade lobbed,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve noted.

Police say some union members have participated in and cheered the recent violence at other protests. But the head of the influential CGT union, Philippe Martinez, insisted on BFM television Thursday that, “we are not accomplices of the troublemakers. We condemn them firmly.”

New street protests are planned for Tuesday, when the conservative-led Senate is to vote on the bill. The law will have to be debated again in July in the lower house of parliament, which has the final say.