Taxi drivers clash with police as France hit by wave of strikes

Thomas Samson, AFP | A taxi car stands next to taxi drivers gathered around a fire during a demonstration on January 26, 2016 early in the morning at Porte Maillot in Paris

At least 24 people were arrested in Paris Tuesday as striking taxi drivers blocked roads and access to airports across the country, while separate industrial action by air-traffic controllers’ caused further travel chaos.


Taxi drivers lit bonfires, sending plumes of dark smoke into the sky as they blocked roads leading into Paris, severely disrupting traffic.

At the Porte de Maillot, one of the major entry points into the French capital, a massive barricade was set up, essentially turning the area into a car park.

The drivers are protesting at what they see as unfair competition from private hire cabs such as Uber, and the government’s inability to enforce laws designed to protect their industry. The strike has since been extended through to Wednesday, according to police, who warned automobile drivers in Paris to avoid the east and western parts of the city.

“The situation here remains pretty stationary, it has to be said, at the Porte de Maillot roundabout, which is one of the strategic access points to the French capital… It’s been completely blocked off by several hundred angry taxi drivers,” FRANCE 24’s Luke Brown reported Tuesday afternoon.

FRANCE 24's Luke Brown reports on taxi strike in Paris

i-Télé television reported that two people were injured at Orly Airport when a shuttle bus tried to force its way past a taxi drivers' blockade.

‘Nothing to lose’

London black cab driver Kamel Abdellaoi, who travelled from the UK to join his Parisian colleagues in Tuesday’s strike, told FRANCE 24 that fed-up taxi drivers had “nothing to lose” and that the protests would only intensify.

“This is war,” he said, referring to cabbies’ opposition to apps such as Uber, adding that taxi drivers from across Europe had joined the protest in France.

The scenes were reminiscent of a string of violent protests last year, in which taxi drivers torched cars and attacked several Uber drivers and passengers.

After condemning Tuesday’s violence, Prime Minister Manuel Valls told taxi driver representatives in a meeting that more efforts would be made to ensure other car ride services respected rules limiting them to pre-booked trips, according to a statement from the premier’s office.

This measure would help to prevent them skimming off clients at airports and train stations from hail-down regular taxis, he said.

Valls also said that he would nominate a mediator tasked with guaranteeing fair competition between taxis and other car ride services, known in France as Véhicules de Tourisme Avec Chauffeur (VTC).

The mediator will be named within the next 48 hours and will have three months to come up with proposals on how to “restore economic balance in the sector”, Ahmed Senbel, president of the national federation of independent taxi drivers, told reporters.

Airport chaos

One in five flights were cancelled at Paris airports and other flights faced delays as air traffic controllers staged a walkout.

Air France had said it would operate all of its long-haul flights and more than 80 percent of its short- and medium-haul flights in France and elsewhere in Europe, but that "last-minute delays or cancellations cannot be ruled out".

Noting that the controllers' strike was coinciding with the taxi drivers' action, the airline warned its passengers that access to Paris's Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, as well as those of Toulouse, Marseille and Bordeaux, could be "greatly disrupted".

EasyJet said it had cancelled 35 flights, mainly within France but also to or from Switzerland, Italy and Spain.

The controllers' unions want to be exempted from proposed changes to how salaries are calculated, which they say would hurt their purchasing power. They have also denounced the loss of some 1,000 jobs in less than 10 years.

In response to the strike, Air France announced later in the day that it had signed a deal with three unions promising that the airline will not fire any ground workers before June 30, 2018 for economic reasons.

Teachers and other public servants also went on strike over wages, education reforms and working conditions. The CGT labour union claimed that, overall, between 130,000 and 150,000 people participated in Tuesday’s strikes nationwide to make it the largest such protest France has seen since President François Hollande was elected in 2012.

For up to date flight information in English from the Aéroports de Paris website, click here.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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