October 11, 2017 / 11:31 AM / a year ago

Protesters sentenced to jail in French "Kung Fu cop" trial

PARIS (Reuters) - Youths who torched a police car and attacked the car driver with an iron bar as he fled the flames were sentenced to up to seven years in jail by a French court on Wednesday.

Dozens of riot police were deployed outside the Paris courthouse where the judge announced his verdict, after a trial prompted by the most striking episode of ultra-violent street protests last year against labour law reforms.

The case grabbed international attention in the run-up to this year’s presidential election as politicians traded accusations of being soft on law and order - a flashpoint in a contest that far-right National Front chief Marine Le Pen ultimately lost to centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron.

It also made headlines due to extensive TV coverage of an incident where a group of protesters mobbed a police car, smashed its windows and threw a flare inside, forcing the car’s two occupants to bail out as flames engulfed the vehicle.

The driver - dubbed “Kung Fu cop” by French media - became a subject of fascination after taking on one of the protesters who attacked him with an iron bar. He fended off the blows with arm strokes worthy of a martial arts master.

His assailant was one of five people tried. He was sentenced to three years in prison. Another protester got seven years but is on the run and believed to be in Switzerland.

The incident, in May 2016, was part of a wave of protests where gangs of mostly hooded youths engaged in running battles with riot police in the capital city and cities across France.

The protests were sparked by labour law changes which several labour unions and leftist politicians said would damage worker rights and make it easier for employers to fire people.

Macron, a former investment banker regarded as a business-friendly centrist, has since taken over but is also introducing further labour law reforms that have put hardline unions back on the warpath, although protests have not so far been on a similar scale to 2016’s demonstrations.

Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Alison Williams

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