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French cabbies barricade Paris roads in Uber protest

Thomas Samson, AFP | Paris taxi drivers attack a car believed to be driven by an Uber driver near the Paris ringroad

French taxi drivers angry at competition from taxi app Uber on Thursday blocked access to Paris airports and barricaded the city’s busy ring road as they protested losing customers to the popular service.


Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve responded to the strike by calling on police to immediately clampdown on Uber’s “illegal” low-cost service UberPOP, which lies at the heart of the dispute.

“France runs by the rule of law,” he said, while admitting that the final decision over the future of the mobile app was “a matter for the courts”.

Cazeneuve was expected to meet with a delegation of taxi drivers at the interior ministry at 6:30pm local time.

Earlier, strike leaders refused to hold talks at the prime minister’s office pointing out that Prime Minister Manuel Valls was away on an official visit to Colombia.

“At the very least he could be here when there’s a nationwide movement,” Karim Asnoun of the CGT union said.

‘The goal is to block space’

The "périphérique" freeway that encircles the French capital was closed in both directions in the west of Paris early in the day after cabbies put up barricades on the roads.

Access to three terminals at Paris's busy Charles de Gaulle airport in the north was blocked. Cabs also converged on the Orly airport in the south, and at train stations inside the city.

"The goal is to block space because we are really fed up," Asnoun told AFP.

An estimated 2,800 taxi drivers took part in the strike nationwide. In the south of France, cabbies set up barriers around Marseilles and Aix-en Provence, blocking motorway exits and cutting off access to train stations in the two cities.

Meanwhile, eight people were arrested at a taxi protest in the southeastern city of Lyon, according to AFP.

‘Uber taking jobs’

Taxi drivers in France, who have to pay up to 240,000 euros for their licenses, are furious at US-based Uber, which they say is endangering their jobs by taking customers away from licensed cab companies.

They, like their colleagues in several other countries, have held a number of protests against the app – some of which have turned violent, with Uber clients and drivers reporting being assaulted.

Of particular annoyance to licensed cabbies is the company’s UberPOP service – a more informal operation than private chauffeured tourism vehicle services called VTCs that use professional driver – that almost anyone can sign up to.

UberPOP has been present in Paris since 2011 and has expanded to other cities, but faces a legal battle. A law from October 2014 placed a ban on putting clients in touch with unregistered drivers, but Uber has contested the rule, saying it is unclear and counter to the freedom to do business.

The interior minister also called for “calm” on Thursday amid violence that has been directed at Uber drivers in recent days.

On at least two occasions in Strasbourg last week, taxi drivers posed as customers in order to lure Uber drivers to isolated spots where they were attacked by other cab drivers and their vehicles damaged.

Uber's mobile phone app puts customers in touch with private drivers who then take them where they want to go, at prices lower than those of traditional taxis.

While popular with consumers, Uber is facing increasing limits on its activities in EU countries and a barrage of legal challenges spurred on by a furious taxi lobby, which says Uber drivers should be regulated the same way as normal cabs.



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