PARIS (Reuters) - France’s interior minister on Friday ordered a crackdown on violent fringe demonstrators after they smashed shopfronts and cars on the edge of a bigger youth protest rally held overnight against labour law reforms.
Police used teargas and pepper gas late on Thursday to disperse mobile groups of mostly hooded youths who targeted cars, an auto showroom and a state job-search agency in central Paris. Violence was also reported in other French cities.
“There will be no let-up in the pursuit of these visionless people inspired solely by violence, no let-up in arresting them and bringing them to justice,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.
Hundreds of students and disenchanted youths have organised a rolling protest against government plans to loosen protective labour laws, organising nightly sit-ins since March 31 in Paris and other cities to vent frustration with the government.
The Nuit Debout (Up All Night) movement is limited in scale and largely peaceful but on its margins there have been some standoffs between riot police and violent fringe groups, notably in Paris’s Place de la Republique square where French presidents customarily celebrate election victories.
Police in Paris said there were no plans for an outright ban on the broader youth protest.
A state of emergency remains in place in France following the deadly Islamist attacks on Nov. 13 last year that killed 130 people and injured hundreds of others.
That in theory includes bans on big gatherings but President Francois Hollande and his government are keen to avoid alienating youth voters a year before elections. Opinion polls suggest three in four French people think Hollande should not even seek re-election.
The head of France’s large UNEF student union accused the police of heavy-handed tactics.
”The problem is not what the law enforcement forces are doing about the vandals, it’s the way they handled the peaceful protesters, said UNEF head William Martinet.
Reporting by Myriam Rivet and Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Gareth Jones