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French firefighters demand better conditions in fiery Paris protest

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Paris (AFP)

Thousands of French firefighters on Tuesday took to the streets of Paris in a pyrotechnic protest to demand better working conditions, igniting flares and even setting their fireproof jackets alight.

The protest by firefighters, who in France also respond to general emergency calls, was the latest to hit Paris in recent weeks as unions battle controversial government pension reforms.

There were clashes with security forces as some firefighters threw projectiles and police responded with tear gas.

The firefighters want a special salary premium that acknowledges the risks of their job to be brought in line with that of the police, staff levels maintained, and the preservation of their existing pension system.

"We are the final link in the chain of emergency aid in France and we are overwhelmed by callouts," said Frederic Perrin, head of the SPASDIS-CFTC union.

"We need the staffing and means to respond to this and also a guarantee that we can concentrate on our core missions, emergency response, and not serve as a supplement to absent health services," he told AFP.

In one of the most eye-catching protests in Paris in recent months, the firefighters set off multicoloured smoke flares while others wearing special protective vests set themselves on fire.

Sporting helmets and protective gear, firefighters marched from Republic Square to Nation Square, clambering onto their central statues, and igniting their flares.

Some protesters blocked the main ring road of Paris but were dispersed, Paris police said on Twitter. Two people were arrested.

France has been gripped by protests and strikes since early December over President Emmanuel Macron's controversial pension reform plans.

The worst of the strikes on the Paris public transport system have now petered out, but the hardline unions have vowed not to give in.

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