Transport strife feared as French taxi strike enters second day
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Protests by striking French taxi drivers ran into a second day Wednesday, a day after they blocked roads and access to airports and train stations leading to clashes with police, arrests and transport chaos.
Many of the disgruntled taxi drivers spent the night in their cars at Porte Maillot, a key access road to Paris where the strikers set up a massive barricade the day before, blocking traffic and leading to clashes with police.
"We are determined. We will not move," Ibrahima Sylla, one of the striking taxi drivers, early this morning.
Police warned motorists to avoid the area Wednesday morning and traffic remained blocked as of 6am local time. Traffic was also disrupted in the Bercy area in the east of the city, which is another key access route for people living in the capital’s suburbs.
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.
During Tuesday’s protests, French riot police fired teargas as taxi drivers set fire to tyres sending plumbs of black acrid smoke over the city. The taxi drivers also tried to force their way onto the capital’s main ring road, while others blocked off access to airports across the country as part of the nationwide strike. The drivers' "go slow" protest also caused major traffic jams in major cities across France.
At least 24 people were detained in the protests around Paris, according to police, while i-Télé television reported that two people were injured at the capital's Orly Airport when a shuttle bus tried to force its way past a taxi drivers' blockade.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls condemned the violent scenes, while also promising 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 stealing clients at airports and train stations from licensed taxis, he said.
But the prime minister’s assurances failed to placate the angry licensed cab drivers, who were joined by colleagues from as far away as Spain, Belgium and the UK who had travelled to France in a show of solidarity.
‘This is war’
London black cab driver Kamel Abdellaoi, who travelled from the UK, 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.
Uber has triggered similar protests by taxi drivers in cities around the world and led to legal disputes in a number of European countries.
“Paris cabbies have paid up to 240,000 euros just to get a license,” the Abdellaoi pointed out.
A string of protests in France last year saw taxi drivers torched cars and attacked several Uber drivers and passengers.
Tuesday also saw French air-traffic controllers’ go on strike over changes to their salaries, leading to one in five flights being cancelled at Paris airports and creating further travel disruption.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)