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Police use tear gas in Paris as 16 arrested amid labour law protests

Published 26/05/2016

Drivers line up as they wait to buy gas in a station, in Paris, Tuesday, May 24, 2016. A two-month protest movement against a bill weakening France's famed worker protections reached a new level this week as fuel industry workers joined in. Strikes have spread to all eight of France's refineries, and one in five gas stations are now dry or running low. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Drivers line up as they wait to buy gas in a station, in Paris, Tuesday, May 24, 2016. A two-month protest movement against a bill weakening France's famed worker protections reached a new level this week as fuel industry workers joined in. Strikes have spread to all eight of France's refineries, and one in five gas stations are now dry or running low. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Riot police have used tear gas during violent clashes in central Paris to disperse crowds who attacked shops during a protest against a divisive labour law reform.

Police say they have so far made 16 arrests during the disturbances in the capital.

A police spokesman estimated that between 18,000 and 19,000 people are taking part in the protest, which took a violent turn in the afternoon.

Several masked protesters charged the windows of high street shops, smashing them amid banner-waving and shouts from other demonstrators demanding that the government scrap the bill that will make it easier to hire and fire workers and loosen the work week.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called it "unacceptable to bring a country to standstill".

Earlier, t housands of dock workers poured into the square in front of the city hall of the French port city of Le Havre, setting off smoke bombs throughout the area.

Tensions are particularly high in Le Havre, where workers are blocking one of the country's main oil terminals.

The workers set off multi-colour smoke bombs and threw some in fountains, kicking up plumes of water.

France's public electricity provider EDF said nearly 15% of its national workforce has taken part in the strike.

EDF spokeswoman Geraldine Foucher said that staff from its nuclear, hydraulic and thermal divisions, as well as engineers and administrators, participated in Thursday's day of action.

EDF employs some 120,000 people in France.

Ms Foucher tried to allay fears over several nuclear power stations that the strikes hit, saying that there is always a "minimal team" present to maintain the site's safe operation.

She added that normal supply of EDF electricity was not interrupted during the strikes over the divisive labour law reform.

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