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Unions block prisons in France after attack on guards

Jeff Pachoud, AFP | A pile of tyres burns as prison officers demonstrate in front of Villefranche-sur-Saone prison on January 15, 2018.

Three French unions demanding more secure working conditions have called for a “total blockage” of the country’s prisons on Monday after three guards were assaulted last week in northern France by an Islamist terrorist inmate.


“It’s a dead prison operation. Everything will be done at a slowed-down pace. The agents are very determined,’ Jean-François Forget, of the Ufap-Unsa Justice union, told Agence France-Presse.

Thursday’s incident saw the German Islamist convict Christian Ganczarski lightly injure three guards with a pair of scissors and a razor blade at the Vendin-le-Vieil prison, 30 kilometres south of Lille. Ganczarski is serving an 18-year sentence in connection with the attack on a synagogue on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba that killed 21 people in April 2002.

In the wake of the assault, more than a third of French correctional facilities were already subject to work stoppages on Friday.

“As long as we haven’t found a path to agreement with the government, we will not back down,” said Forget, condemning what he called “total impunity” in French prisons. The joint call to action by the Ufap-Unsa Justice, CGT Pénitentiaire and FO Pénitentiaire unions is renewable beyond Monday.

Prison guard sources have told Reuters that Ganczarski was informed just days before assaulting the guards of plans to extradite him to the United States in connection with the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. Footage from 2000 aired at Ganczarski’s 2009 trial in France showed him alongside then al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Mohammed Atta, a 9/11 attack leader who was killed when the airliner he had hijacked crashed in to the World Trade Center.

The three-year-old Vendin-le-Vieil prison will also soon take in Salah Abdeslam, the primary surviving suspect in the November 13, 2015, attacks that killed 130 people in and around Paris, during Abdeslam’s upcoming trial in neighbouring Belgium.

No, minister

Pallets, tyres and debris were stacked in front of the northern France facility early Monday morning as the union action began. “Anything that isn’t in a navy blue uniform doesn’t get in; we are only letting in the prison service,” a local Ufap-Unsa representative Grégory Strzempek told AFP. “Inside, there will be a stoppage this morning, with colleagues who will go on duty later in the day. As for us outside, we are blocking any speakers, school teachers, canteen personnel for the inmates, people coming in for the visiting rooms...”

Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet, who has requested an inspection mission of Vendin-le-Vieil, is due to visit the prison at the heart of the labour unrest on Tuesday, although Forget said Saturday after a meeting at the ministry between Belloubet’s staff and unions that she “would not be welcomed as long as the director of Vendin-le-Vieil is in place”.

The three unions issued a joint communiqué after that meeting, saying: “No concrete response to our union organisations’ respective demands was brought in order to end the lack of regard and means, notably with respect to security, within correctional facilities.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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