PARIS (AP) — Hundreds of troublemakers on the fringe of a labor demonstration damaged nearly two dozen shops, eight banks, up to eight bus stops, a nursery school and a government ministry, the Paris police chief said Wednesday after tabulating the results of violence a day earlier.
But it was the damage to a renowned children’s hospital, where windows of operating rooms were smashed, that marked the peak in violence during Tuesday’s demonstration, a “day of action” in ongoing protests against an unpopular labor reform bill.
Paris police, helmeted and armed with shields and tear gas, routinely keep watch over the city’s numerous demonstrations, including, most recently, largely peaceful protests against legislation weakening rigid French labor protections that have degenerated into violence by small groups.
On Tuesday, masked troublemakers hurled paving stones and other projectiles, mainly along the Boulevard du Montparnasse, in what Police Chief Michel Cadot said was “extreme violence” not seen by officers in years. Ten public buildings, including Necker Hospital and a ministry, suffered damage, he said.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls, visiting the Necker Hospital for Sick Children, said the violence during the demonstration — which drew up to 80,000 marchers — was “intolerable.” President Francois Hollande warned that future street protests might be banned if the safety of people and public property are threatened.
“The noise and explosions were distracting personnel as well as the sick on operating tables,” Necker anesthesiologist Caroline Telion told BFM-TV.
Celine Fevrier, a Parisian whose child is a patient, called the rampage “shameful and disgraceful, especially attacking Necker children’s hospital.
“There are no words to describe that,” she commented to The Associated Press.
It was unclear whether troublemakers knew they were breaking windows of a children’s hospital. Necker is among the world’s leading children’s hospitals, and patients come from around the world for advanced surgery and treatment for cancer and other diseases.
However, Cadot said it was clear some “were prepared and organized” to target police — 28 of whom were injured, along with 11 demonstrators, seven of them hospitalized.
Cadot said up to 1,000 troublemakers “who came to commit violent acts … and attack police” made their way to the front of the march, mixed with what he called a “nebulous group” that included members of the CGT union, which is at the forefront of those demanding the labor bill be dropped. According to Cadot, CGT flags were seen among the troublemakers and a small group applauded the violence.
He said 41 people were being held for questioning.
CGT leader Philippe Martinez said his union has “no responsibility for what happens on the fringes” of demonstrations.
“I think today the wisdom is for the government to suspend” the labor legislation — not demonstrations, he said on France 2 TV, noting that in France demonstrating is considered a sacred right.
Martinez will meet Friday with Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri.
Every request to authorize a street protest will be studied “on a case by case basis,” government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said following Wednesday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, reporting Hollande’s warning on future marches.
Seven workers’ unions and student organizations have already called for street protests and strikes on June 23 and June 28 to reject the labor law, currently being debated in the Senate.
Angela Charlton and Milos Krivokapic contributed to this report.