Thursday, March 30, 2006

'Black Tuesday', CPE Riots, Paris. 28th March 2006

On Tuesday 28th March 2006, Paris was brought to a standstill as hundreds of thousands of people, most of them students, took to the streets to protest against the new labour law known as the First Employment Contract (CPE). The new law states that youths under the age of 26 can be fired without notice in the first 2 years of their employment-in effect it is a two year probation period. Before the law when someone was fired they received a year's salary severance pay. The law is aimed a tackling unemployment problems across France.

I and a good friend of mine, Naresh Verlander, decided the night before that this would be an event worth covering, and so travelled over from London early Tuesday morning.

The beginning of the event was largely peaceful, and the turnout was both huge and diverse, with young and old demonstrating side by side.

However up to 4,000 riot police had been deployed in preperation for expected trouble, and sure enough as the march neared Place de Republique the mood became somewhat more tense and menacing.

This section of the march had been taken over by youths who clearly were out to cause trouble, many turning up drunk and with ready made projectiles, others sporting scarves and balaclavas.

The police initially stood their ground but due to the previous weeks troubles they had been encouraged to arrest as many demonstrators as possible. This meant that they frequently surged forward in snatch squads, tackling youths that had been marked by police sharpshooters using paintball guns. The police made frequent charges with battons and the use of CS spray which would cling to the skin and clothing causing irritation. Over the course of the day they were to make 488 arrests.

This led to retaliation on the part of the rioters with increasingly dangerous projectiles being launched at both police lines and the multitude of journalists covering the event. In total there were 46 demonstrators injured and 8 policemen, I also personally wintessed a number of photographers and camermen getting beaten up.

Some students attempted a sit down protest, but the more aggressive ones successfully disrupted this.

As the afternoon grew into evening weary riot police maintained an uneasy level of control, peering over the battered and stained riot shields. However the battle for Place de Republique was far from over.

As dusk settled so the violence increased, with the riot police making frequent charges and retreats. They were eventually forced to resort to tear gas and water canons in an attempt to disperse the hostile crowds.

Enough is enough-whilst photographing the water canons I managed to have a tear gas canister explode within about three feet from where I was standing. Stupidly I had been wearing contacts and so the effect was somewhat multiplied, this coupled with the fast fading light made me decide to call it a day.


Dave Tett said...

Damn Greg looks like you really got in the thick of things. I got a link to your website from Tim. I'm down in Montpellier in France at the moment working for a regional paper. Loads to cover with whats going on at the moment. Keep up the good work, its very impressive.

Dave T

Lam Thuy Vo said...

watch out for yourself! Don't wanna know what's gonna happen when you head to the middle east (this summer?)...

Anyway, keep up the good work,


Anonymous said...

Nice helmet. Didn't think you were very impartial. The poor jeandamerie have a hard task you know. Good shots all the same.