French riot police arrested 27 people after running battles with dozens of hooded and masked youths in downtown Paris’s Place de la Republique square overnight, after a day of separate protest marches over labour reform that were also marked by violence In the early hours of the morning police moved in to clear out a group of around 150 youths who refused to quit the vast open square which has been occupied daily for the past month by mostly peaceful sit-in protesters.
The evacuation followed running battles between police and youths who set cars on fire and hurled lumps of concrete and cobblestones ripped up from the streets, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
It said 24 of the 27 arrested in the standoff were placed in custody.
“These are largely people coming looking for a fight,” Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said.
The late-night clashes followed a day of street marches in which dozens more were arrested. The violence took place on the fringes of rallies involving tens of thousands of people protesting over a law to make hiring and firing easier in a country where labour protection is sacrosanct and unemployment above 10 percent.
In all, police reported 124 arrests during Thursday’s day of protests and demonstrations, in which 24 police were injured, one in serious condition after a skull-cracking blow from a paving block.
Paris police prefect Michel Cadot says highly organised and methodical groups are behind the violence which has developed despite the state of emergency rules imposed since the deadly Islamist attacks of last November.
The French government has condemned the violence, but with just a year to elections, seems keen so far to waive the blanket curfew option it has under the state of emergency system.