France to tighten security at protests after May Day violence
Government vows to counter Black bloc activists in run-up to anniversary of 1968 uprisingMasked protesters hold a Black bloc banner during the May Day march in Paris.Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
The French government has announced it is increasing security at street protests over changes to labour laws after cars were torched and a fast-food restaurant attacked during a May Day demonstration. The security services denied they were unprepared for the 1,200 hooded, black-clad anti-capitalists who hijacked the march for workers' rights.
Shouting "Rise up, Paris", "Everyone hates the police", and "Macron puts us in a black rage" the protesters, apparently from the far-left Black bloc movement, hurled stones, molotov cocktails and other projectiles at security forces who responded with teargas and water cannon.
Police said about 109 people were being held in custody after attacks on police and property along the route of the Paris rally.
The interior minister, Gerard Collomb, promised to send more police to future gatherings.
"For the next demonstrations, there will be even more security forces, this time with the intention of totally separating protesters from those who have come to smash things up," he told France 2 television.
Despite a heavy presence at Tuesday's march, police were unable to prevent the protesters smashing up and setting fire to a McDonald's restaurant and torching a car dealership. Thirty-one shops and businesses were damaged, six cars burned and another 10 vandalised, according to police. Four people were injured, including a riot police officer.
Collomb defended the way police had handled the violence, saying little could be done to stop trouble-makers infiltrating crowds. "We can only detain a certain number of people who turn up like you or I in civilian clothing and then suddenly are dressed in Black bloc outfits in the middle of the crowd," he said.Masked protesters attack shops in Paris. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
"Even with 21 police units mobilised, we cannot keep up with movements that appear all of a sudden on a scale we've never seen before."
The Paris police chief, Michel Delpuech, told journalists they were expecting Black bloc protesters, but suggested officials had been taken by surprise by their number. "We'd had information that made us fear their presence.
These individuals were motivated by the desire to disrupt this parade," he said. Macron, on a visit to Sydney, told a press conference the vandals had misappropriated May Day. "1 May is Workers' Day, not the day of the hooligans," he said. Black bloc has become a generic term for ultraradical, highly mobilised leftwing groups often associated with anti-capitalism, anti-globalisation, anti-fascism and anarchism.
Protesters wear black clothing cover their faces with scarves, hoods, balaclavas and motorcycle helmets to conceal their identities and lessen the effects of teargas. The movement has its roots in the autonomist protests of 1980s Germany where they were known as Schwarzer Block. They have since clashed with police at demonstrations around the world.
There is no overall organisation and the blocs are often formed ad hoc to respond to a given situation. There may be more than one bloc at a protest with different aims and tactics.
Their appearance at Tuesday's demonstration complicates life for Macron's centrist government.
It has faced a wave of public sector strikes, the occupation of universities by students opposed to changes to admission procedures and calls for a concerted national protest to mark the 50th anniversary of the May 1968 uprising.
The leader of the hard-left France Insoumise or France Unbowed party, Jean-Luc Melenchon said the far-left activists were "playing into the hands of our adversaries ... smashing the window of a McDonald's is not a revolutionary act." Olivier Faure of the Socialist party accused Macron's government of feeding radical behaviour by pursuing what he called "all-out victory" over trade unions opposed to his public sector overhaul.
The violence marred a planned peaceful demonstration by French unions and supporters against the government's economic programme.
Striking workers, led by disgruntled train drivers, have taken to city streets across France in recent weeks to show their strident opposition to Macron's moves to shake up the public sector, including removing many of workers' hard-won privileges at the debt-ridden state-owned railway company SNCF.
Opposition leaders and protesters argue that Macron's policies favour the wealthy and business leaders to the detriment of the poor and public services.