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Clashes erupt at Brittany anti-tax protest

FRANCE 2

Protesters and police have traded stones and teargas as more than 10,000 defenders of the wavering Breton food industry stage a march in Quimper this Saturday afternoon, despite a government decision to suspend a controversial new road tax.

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Farmers, food industry workers, hauliers and fishermen converged on the Breton city of Quimper on Saturday for a large-scale protest against mounting layoffs and rising taxes.

As protesters gathered for speeches prior to a march in the city centre in the afternoon, some burned palettes and threw stones and steel bars at the riot police posted around public buildings.

The authorities responded with teargas and water cannons, estimating that 10,000 people were taking part in the Quimper march. A local politician among the organisers of the protest told reporters that 30,000 people had turned out.

On Tuesday, the government suspended plans for a contentious “ecotax” on heavy goods vehicles, following a first wave of violent marches in the past week. Yet anger remains palpable after hundreds of workers lost their jobs in recent months in Brittany, France's largely rural westernmost region.

Most job losses have been occurring in the agribusiness sector, which had previously proved resilient in the face of the economic crisis.

Although some trade unions and business groups called off their participation in Saturday afternoon’s protest after the ecotax was ditched, the most vocal organisations have decided to go ahead.

“How are we supposed to produce products that are made in France, made in Brittany, with all these taxes? It’s impossible,” said a market gardener who was planning to march on Saturday.

Protesters taking part in the past few weeks’ movement have been wearing red caps reminiscent of a 17th-century revolt against King Louis XIV’s fiscal policies.

The government is fearing a repeat of the October 26 clashes in which a man had his hand torn off by a teargas canister.

The authorities are concerned that hardline left-wing groups supporting initiatives such as road transport taxation may confront the main march.

The CGT trade union is staging a separate march against rising unemployment in Carhaix, another Breton town.

On Friday, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault cautioned protesters against a “spiral of violence”. “Bretons’ problems will be resolved only through negotiations,” he said.

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