PARIS − French riot police used water cannon and teargas on Tuesday against hundreds of hooded protesters after they smashed shop windows and hurled petrol bombs at the start of an annual May Day rally in Paris.
Police had warned on Monday of possible clashes with far-left anarchist groups, known as Black Blocs, after a call on social media to make Tuesday a “Revolutionary Day”.
Authorities said some 1 200 hooded and masked protesters dressed in black had turned up on the sidelines of the annual planned demonstration by labour unions. More than 200 anarchists were arrested, the head of Paris’ police department, Michel Delpuech, told a news conference.
The protesters smashed the windows of businesses, including a Renault garage and McDonalds restaurant near the Austerlitz station in eastern Paris. They also ransacked shops, torched cars and scrawled anti-capitalist graffiti on walls.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb condemned the violence and said everything was being done to arrest the culprits.
Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux criticised the protesters for covering up their faces.
“When you have sincere convictions, you demonstrate with your face unmasked,” he said. “Those who wear hoods are the enemies of democracy.”
The protesters chanted anti-fascist slogans, waved Soviet flags and anti-government banners and threw firecrackers. Some started to erect barricades.
President Emmanuel Macron, elected last May on a promise to shake up France’s economy and spur jobs growth, is locked in a battle with the trade unions over his plans to liberalise labour regulations.
Railway staff have begun three months of nationwide rolling strikes in a dispute over the government’s planned overhaul of state-run railway SNCF.
Discontent with Macron’s economic policies has spread beyond the railways and the May Day protests were intended to send a message of defiance to the former investment banker, who is currently on a trip to Australia.
Earlier on Tuesday Macron reiterated that he would not back down on his reform agenda.
Labour unions put the number of peaceful protesters at Tuesday’s main May Day rally at about 55 000, though police put it a just 20 000. The numbers were relatively small compared to other recent demonstrations.
Opposition conservative and far-right politicians accused Macron’s government of being insufficiently prepared for the violent protests and criticised it for not cracking down more heavily on far-left anarchist groups.
The leader of the far-left France Unbowed party, Jean-Luc Melenchon, said he believed far-right groups were responsible for the violence. (Reuters)