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Paris police fire tear gas at Uber protest taxi drivers amid nationwide strikes

Published 26/01/2016

The Uber app on a smartphone
The Uber app on a smartphone

Paris police have fired tear gas and taxi drivers lit bonfires on a major highway amid nationwide French strikes and protests over working conditions and competition from non-traditional services such as Uber.

One in five flights were cancelled at Paris airports and other flights faced delays as air traffic controllers staged a walkout and taxi drivers disrupted roads. I-Tele television reported that a taxi driver was injured at Orly Airport while trying to block a bus entrance.

Some teachers and other public servants are also on strike over a range of issues including wages, education reforms and working conditions.

It is the latest challenge to Francois Hollande's Socialist government and its stop-start efforts to modernise the economy.

Hundreds of French taxis, joined by a few from Belgium and Spain, blocked a massive intersection leading into western Paris, causing disruption throughout surrounding avenues.

Dozens of taxi drivers tried to march from the Porte Maillot intersection on to an eight-lane bypass, but police pushed them back with tear gas. Some drivers set pre-dawn bonfires put out by firefighters.

Traditional taxi drivers are protesting against what they consider unfair competition from Uber, which has faced a string of legal challenges in France. Previous protests have also turned violent.

Uber drivers "vandalise professionals who are paying taxes, who respect the rules", said Rachid Boudjema, 37, president of the taxi drivers union in Marseille, where striking drivers caused traffic jams around the city and its Marignane airport. He described "American cowboys" who "want to destroy our system, the system we are all attached to".

Uber sent a message to French customers warning of potential violence around Tuesday's protests, saying the goal of the protest is "to put pressure on the government to ... limit competition".

It warned that limiting app-based car services would raise costs, put drivers out of work and send customers back to the era "before apps and smartphones".

Prime minister Manuel Valls met with taxi drivers in an apparent attempt to defuse tensions.

He condemned the drivers' violence but promised to strengthen a police crackdown on the competing taxi services they are protesting against.

He is also forming a panel of taxi company representatives and government ministers to discuss reforms in the sector.

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