Hundreds of protesters taking part in the "Up All Night" (Nuit Debout) demonstrations were met with tear gas Saturday night as they tried to make their way to the residence of Prime Minister Manuel Valls. At least eight people were arrested.
Some 2,000 people gathered in Place de la République on Saturday to share their aspirations for change. Galvanised by weeks of protests over the Socialist government's labour reforms seen as threatening workers' rights, the Up All Night (Nuit Debout) movement is an amalgamation of left-leaning causes.
Participants may be fighting for the environment, against Islamophobia and homophobia, for better housing, against unhealthy food – or all of the above.
In the wake of the November 13 jihadist attacks in Paris, many are also opposed to the state of emergency that remains in effect.
The protests have mainly been nonviolent, but several hundred people marching from Place de la République towards the central Paris home of Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Saturday were turned away by riot police using tear gas. Valls was not home at the time but on a visit to Algeria.
Up All Night began in Paris and has now spread to around 50 other cities across France, as well as to Belgium and Spain. Its activists occupy central city squares overnight and vacate them in the morning.
"Get Indignant!" is painted on a paving stone in the vast Paris square, a nod to Spain's Indignados, who gave rise to the far-left Podemos party.
Up All Night also emulates the anti-capitalist Occupy movement in the United States and Greece's anti-austerity 700 Euro Generation.
"We haven't seen this for a long time," said Emeric Degui, 33, an activist with Désobéir (Disobey). The protests against the labour reforms have "awakened awareness", he said.
The atmosphere is festive, with street theatre and music, a variety of food stalls and many people swigging beers.
But the organisation is disciplined, with daily general assemblies and a variety of committees handling practical and political themes.
Speakers take turns at the podium and are supposedly limited to two minutes, in the interests of fairness. However, prominent economist Frédéric Lordon, one of the instigators of the movement, took a bit longer and received a thunderous welcome.
"Something is arising," he said. "We are doing something. But what? Without political demands, the movement will die out."
In pictures: 'Up All Night activists' march on the French prime minister's residence
A supporter of the "Up All Night" (#NuitDebout) movement waves a flag during the April 9 protest against the government's labour reform bill. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24
Hundreds join a general assembly at République. Anyone can participate and the meeting sometimes feels like group therapy, with speakers voicing concerns ranging from labour law to vegan food. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24
A speaker calling himself “Poulet" (or “chicken”) speaks at the general assembly. The "Up All Night" movement has refrained from making concrete demands as it seeks to draw as many people as possible. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24
The atmosphere was calm but, after ten consecutive nights, some attendees were itching for a bit more action. That's when a speaker proposed marching to Prime Minister Manuel Valls' home. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24
Valls is a lightning rod for the anger of people attending the "Up All Night" movement. Most participants are left-wing supporters deeply disappointed by the Socialist government's political shift to the right. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24
A drummer takes part in the spontaneous march to Valls' home. It's only a 20-minute walk between the Place de la République and the street where the prime minister lives. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24
Some 300 protesters took part in the impromptu march, calling for Parisians to rise up and join their march to Valls' residence. The prime minister was actually in Algeria on that specific evening. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24
French anti-riot police confronted protesters trying to reach Valls' residence. Despite marching through smaller streets, nobody was able to reach the prime minister's home. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24
Some protesters made a half-hearted attempt to set up a barricade before being pushed back by police. Organisers from the "Up All Night" movement made clear they were opposed to such tactics. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24
Police used tear gas to disperse the protesters, who then pulled back towards the headquarters of the "Up All Night" movement at République. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24
The atmosphere remained festive at République, with a mix of live concerts and impromptu protests until the early hours of the morning. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24
'Lots of unknowns'
Elsewhere in Paris, students have been at the forefront of weeks of sometimes violent protests over the Socialist government's labour reforms, which will make it easier for struggling companies to fire people.
The reforms, which have already been diluted once in a bid to placate critics, are considered unlikely to achieve their stated goal of reining in unemployment, which stands at 25 percent among young people and around 10 percent nationwide.
"I don't dispute the fact that... people need to ask questions and that should be respected," government spokesman Stéphane Le Foll said Wednesday. "There's no need for concern."
Sociologist Albert Ogien told AFP: "It's a modern form of political action, outside of parties, unions, without leaders, without an agenda that says, 'We are discussing among citizens what needs to be done'."
But left-wing activist and filmmaker François Ruffin, another architect of Up All Night, said: "It's not a spontaneous movement. There's been a lot of work, meetings ... It's a voluntary movement that has tapped a latent desire to overcome resignation [to the status quo]."
The movement is still in its early stages and "has to mature", said Ruffin, who directed a recent hit film about outsourcing labour. "There are lots of unknowns."
Date created : 2016-04-10