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French ‘occupy’ protests in Paris ‘a pain in the neck'

© Dominique Faget, AFP | French protesters gather at Place de La République in Paris as part of demonstrations by the Up All Night (Nuit debout) movement on April 11, 2016

Text by Rachel HOLMAN

Latest update : 2016-04-14

As members of the 'Up All Night' (Nuit debout) protest prepare to gather in Paris for a 12th consecutive evening on Tuesday, some city officials and residents have become weary with the group that has been likened to the Occupy movement.

Police dismantled the Up All Night camp at the French capital’s iconic Place de la République early Monday morning, after the movement’s protest permit expired. But members of the movement quickly submitted a request for a new permit, calling on supporters to return to the square.

“An idea cannot be expelled”, @nuitdebout tweeted on Monday afternoon.

The Up All Night movement began on March 31 after a group of demonstrators camped out at the French capital’s iconic Place de la République to protest against the country’s controversial labour reforms and “everything that goes with it”. Since then it has drawn thousands of supporters and grown to encompass a wider range of grievances, from social inequality to the Panama Papers to France’s ongoing state of emergency, and has drawn comparisons to the 2011 Occupy movement in the United States or the Indignados in Spain.

Smaller gatherings have also sprung up in towns and cities across France, and also in Belgium, Germany as well as Spain.

As Up All Night now readies for what will be its 12th gathering in Paris on Tuesday, some officials and residents have begun to lose patience with the movement.

Although the protests have been largely peaceful, things took a violent turn on Saturday night after a group of demonstrators marched on Prime Minister Manuel Valls’s home in Paris, threw rocks at a police station in the 11th arrondissement [district] and torched a car. A young man was also seriously injured while trying to place a banner on a statue of Marianne in Place de la République. The unrest resulted in eight arrests, which raised concerns that the movement could spiral out of control.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo – a vocal supporter of the movement – urged participants on Monday to limit their presence to Place de la République in a statement signed by the mayors of the 3rd, 10th and 11th arrondissements, all of which border the square.

“Every morning, city sanitation workers clean a space that cannot be called a public or shared space unless all Parisians are able to use it. In the same way that there’s nothing preventing citizens from holding a debate [there] overnight, nothing should prevent them from liberating the square once they’ve finished their discussion,” she wrote, also condemning the weekend’s violence.

‘We’re sick of it’

Others in the neighbourhood complain that Up All Night has disrupted their lives.

Mikaël Zakin, who works at a pharmacy located directly on Place de la République, told FRANCE 24 that he was fed up with the protests.

“It’s a real nuisance. As a business, we’re sick of there always being protests at Place de la République. It’s a disruption,” he said. “It’s great that they’re protesting, but they should do it somewhere else. We’re forced to shut down for a couple hours whenever troublemakers break things.”

His comments were echoed by Aurélie Mongin, who works at a café just down the road from the square.

“On the one hand it’s a kind of attraction, but it’s true that it has slowed down business,” she said. “I’ve already had people cancel [a reservation] over a demonstration. It’s becoming a pain in the neck. But it’s like that whenever there’s a protest here, no matter the issue.”

According to Up All Night organisers, a number of meetings will be held at Place de la République on Tuesday ahead of a larger demonstration on the northern fringes of the city in Saint-Ouen.

In response to the ongoing protests, Valls met the movement’s leaders and said, "France must listen to its young people."

The prime minister also announced subsidies for graduates looking for work and aid for students worth a total of €400m.

Date created : 2016-04-12

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