Protests over proposed pension reforms have crippled France's transport system and posed a major challenge for the country's embattled government – but they have been largely peaceful. Not quite the view taken by some of Europe's newspapers...
Monday’s violence raised the spectre of May 1968, when rioters took to the streets of Paris to bring down the government of former French President Charles de Gaulle – or so part of the foreign press would have you believe.
The protests against French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposed pension reforms, expected to be passed by the country’s upper Senate this week, have been largely peaceful.
But on Monday irresistible images of upturned cars, burning petrol, riot police and hooded youths poured into newsrooms around the world.
The incidents in question did not even involve workers, but school children at a loose end when they found their college gates were closed because their teachers were on strike.
Some protests turned violent and 290 youths were arrested, the Interior Ministry said.
The students set a handful of cars on fire, toppled a telephone booth and hurled debris at police in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, as well as in Lyon and elsewhere – hardly a re-run of the French Revolution.
The incendiary coverage…
But the coverage on Britain’s right-wing Daily Mail was certainly incendiary. “Britons warned to stay away as violence spirals,” screamed the headline above pictures of burning cars and baton-wielding riot police.
Its article concludes that “many fear a re-run of the May 1968 riots in Paris when thousands took to the streets to try to bring down the government of President Charles de Gaulle,” without specifying who these “many” are.
Another UK newspaper, the liberal Independent, reported that the violence – which it admits happened at the fringes of the student demonstrations – raised the spectre of “a re-run of the multi-racial suburban riots of five years ago,” which had little or nothing to do with the nationwide protests over plans to raise the retirement age.
In Germany, left-leaning Der Spiegel suggested that while the French government had so far succeeded in giving the impression of being in control, the reality is that violence and chaos is spreading through the country.
And the Suddeutsche Zeitung went further, implying a fight to the death between Sarkozy and the nation’s youth. Above pictures of the violence it leads with the headline that “there can only be one survivor in this battle: Nicolas Sarkozy or the street”.
…and the more pragmatic
If it is a fight to the death, Spain’s right-wing daily ABC says that Sarkozy has no choice but to fight his corner or suffer an ignominious political demise.
It writes: “If Sarkozy drops his trousers and concedes to pressure from the street, France’s national debt will escalate, France’s debt repayments will go up even more and he would end up the victim of his own concessions to the unions.”
But Sarkozy certainly has a battle ahead. Newspaper La Informacion laments Spain’s arguably much worse situation with more than double France’s unemployment rate and a retirement age set to go up from 65 to 67.
Why, it asks, do the Spanish not take to the streets like the French? “Because of the strong tradition of mobilisation and protest in the country of the French revolution, coupled with the strength of the unions.”
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