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Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-05-04

French prison guards are on a four-day strike to protest shortage of resources in France’s overcrowded prisons. They are calling for better working conditions and higher salaries.

French prison wardens launched a four-day strike on Monday to protest a lack of resources to manage overcrowded prisons in the country.

Prison unions chose a "progressive blockade" since they are not allowed to strike. They set up barricades to block the prison’s main door in a bid to hinder prison transfers and outside visits at more than 190 prisons in the France.

One of the early blockades was reported at the Fleury-Mérogis prison in northern France, where dozens of wardens clashed with policemen.

Fleury-Mérogis is the largest prison in Europe. The prison can provide for 2,855 inmates but in reality 3,700 people are currently held there, according to prison director Paul Louchouarn.

According to Louchouarn, working conditions in the prison were "partially degraded due to overcrowding".

Policemen used tear gas following clashes with protesters.

"We’re not here to fight security forces, we’re here to protect our jobs," teary-eyed French union member Marcel Duredon told reporters.

The strike is yet another challenge for French Justice Minister Rachida Dati, who has faced a series of embarrassments in recent weeks. Dati is due to step down soon in order to become a candidate for the upcoming European Union elections.

Her successor will have to deal with a new bill on prison reform, which has been on hold for almost one year. The bill favours release on parole, and if passed, it would help reduce overcrowding in prisons.

On Monday, protesters shouted out slogans including “Rachida sell your robes to pay your prison guards.”

Date created : 2009-05-04