France in the streets: Largest demonstrations yet

Demonstration size map
Demonstration size map

Full coverage of today's demonstrations, strikes and riots as public transport and services crippled and nearly 3 million take to the streets in protest against the CPE.

Submitted by alibi on March 28, 2006

Tuesday 28th of March - Summary

  • Between 1.1 million and 2.7 million demonstrate across France (Map showing protest sizes)
  • Clashes reported in Paris, Rennes, Dijon, Toulouse, Lille, Grenoble, Vannes and Brest
  • Strike cripples public transport and public services

Tuesday 28th of March - Timeline
Le Monde has published a useful map showing demonstration sizes across France.
tf1 are reporting that a CRS riot policeman has been seriously injured by a thrown bottle in todays demonstration in Paris.
21h45 - Cracks emerge as Villepins UMP deputies lean towards Sarkozy exit plan
Deputies (members of the French parliament) of the UMP are now said to favour the suspension of the CPE and the opening of discussions. According to Bernard Accoyer, president of UMP group in the Parliament, the deputies, who met together yesterday, expressed "the common and unanimous wish" of an opening discussions between government and the two sides of industry. Certain deputies close to Villepin dispute this unanimity.
According to information obtained by Ouest France however, the deputies of the UMP indeed expressed some degree of unanimity for the suspension of the contract first engages (CPE) as suggested by their President and Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, on Monday. A UMP deputy, François Grosdidier, even wrote in Chirac to ask him for a new deliberation on the CPE, adding that "the immense majority of the deputies believe that the text must be improved".
Ouest France, the regional paper of Brittany reports 14,000 to 20,000 protested in Angers, and at least 15,000 in Saint Nazaire.
Police have cleared Place du Capitole in Toulouse, nine arrested. British student eyewitness describes events in the Place de la Republique.
First photos from Paris

200 arrested in Paris during todays clashes.
The BBC report that the Eiffel Tower in Paris was shut today as workers went on strike. BBC photos of todays demonstrations. Photos from Ouest France.
First photos from Toulouse

Photos from today: Liberation, Liberation photo blog
In Brittany, trouble has flared in Brest, Vannes and Rennes.
18h14 - Report from our correspondent in Bordeaux
The city seemed eerily quiet on the journey into the center of town; the atmosphere was much like a public holiday until I got to the starting point of the demonstration at the Place Tourny. I was impressed by the size of the crowd that was gathered there from the start.
After the speech making, the procession began to move towards Place Gambetta. Led by the students and the youth, the march headed up to Gambetta and right around Meriadeck. The students were followed up by the Teachers Unions and then the general Trade Unions and political parties. Everyone was chanting “Retraite du CPE, Retraite du CPE” – “Withdraw the CPE”. The marching bands and drummers added to the very festive atmosphere. The students seemed to be having the most fun, with many dressed up and waving homemade placards.
The March headed along to the Place de la Victoire, and the whole center of town was closed to traffic and two the main tram lines were shut down. Coming up to the Place de la Victoire it was amazing to see the whole square packed with people cheering on the marchers as they arrived.
Most of the Unions have vans mounted with loudspeakers and their members would gather around the vans to continue the speeches. The biggest attraction was one group who had marched with a suited effigy with four heads – including Chirac, Villepin and Sarkozy. The effigy was burnt as a band played and students danced around the smouldering remains.
One had the sense that everyone was there; not just students and school children, their parents and teachers, but also many others who are opposed to the law. The police kept a very low profile around the main march and when I left the square people where milling around and enjoying the afternoon.
A smaller march headed off into the center of town to the Hotel de Ville and I followed it to the Place Pey Berland where a smaller group was facing down the CRS. Apparently there had been some arrests earlier and a group of about 50 people wanted to march to the Commisariat (the main Police station). There was a strong presence of anarchists and radical left, and the odd clown or two, who sat down in front of the CRS. The police began a series of retreats until they formed a blue line in front of the Hotel de Ville.
Although some people wanted to continue to the Commisariat, the majority didn’t seem to be that inclined to advance much further. I left soon afterwards but all in all it was a great march. I haven’t heard any estimates of how many people there were yet, but as one banner read: “Chirac, Villepin Sarkozy – votre period de essaie est finie” (Chirac, Villepin Sarkozy – your trial period is finished) there is no way the government can ignore what is happening on the streets of France.
Its believed that between 31,000 and 100,000 marched in Bordeaux.
Skirmishes continue in the Place de la Republique, several thousand still hover around the square, where occasional momentary clashes break out.
Meanwhile in Copenhagen, 200 have demonstrated outside the French embassy in solidarity with the French protestors.
AFP reporting over 100 arrested in Paris. Many have now left the Place de la Republique, but many riot police remain.
Disturbances in Place de la Republique in Paris. Plain clothes snatch squads arresting demonstrators and police charges taking place amidst heavy rain.
Unions now giving a figure of 2.6million demonstrating across France. In Clermont-Ferrand, unions estimated that 50,000 have demonstrated. In Paris, union security have confronted gangs of youths who have mugged and attacked demonstrators. Trade unionists were said to have chased a gang out of the Place de la Republique.
Meanwhile, 10,000 to 18,000 are said to have demonstrated in Perpignan.
150 flights from Roissy and Orly airport cancelled as a result of strike action. Between 10,000 and 25,000 demonstrating in Poitiers. 10,000 to 12,000 in Dijon. Latest police figures give almost 900,000 marching without including Paris.
As a result of strike action, Le Monde is not being printed today, the paper carried an explanatory message on its website. Rough translation:
"Because of the day of strike and action organized by the trade unions, "Le Monde" this does not appear Tuesday March 28. The articles of the daily newspaper are however published exclusively on"
Le Figaro reports clashes in Rouen.
Le Figaro now reporting an updated figure of 36,000 to 80,000 in Toulouse. Meanwhile there have been 27 arrests at a demonstration in the Parisian banlieue in Val de Marne. 10,000 to 20,000 have marched in Metz.
Between 23,000 and 50,000 demonstrate in Nancy, in the North East of France. Boulogne-sur-Mer between 5000 and 7500, Calais between 1650 and 6000 and Millau 300 to 500. In Brittany, 3000 - 5000 marched in Alençon, Argentan 1000, 5000 in Morlaix, 8000 in La Roche-sur-yon, 4000 in Cholet and 6000 in Laval.
Between 6000 and 13,000 in Reims. CGT claiming 700,000 marching in Paris. Clashes between demonstrators and CRS reported in Rennes. Scuffles between a group of around 100 casseurs and the trade union security in the Place de la Republique, Paris.

15h06 - Strike Update
Today's stoppages were not an official general strike, as had previously been reported by and the mainstream press, but were widespread. This is just a roundup of information we have to hand:
13% of GDF (Gas de France) workers strike. 12% of EDF (Electricite de France) workers strike. Only 50% of buses running due to strike action in Bordeaux. TGV cut to 2 in 3, half of regular trains off. One train in three running in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region. Half of buses in Lyon off. Eight of nine Air France flights between Toulouse and Paris off, with severe disruptions at the Toulouse Blagnac airport. Shows cancelled at the National Theatre of Chaillot and at the Paris Opera. Long delays at Orly and Roissy airports. Only one in five buses operating in Clermont Ferrand. 1 TGV out of 3 circulate between Rennes and Lyon or Marseilles and 1 train out of 4 between Rennes and Lille. 1 TGV out of 2 between Paris and Rennes, 1 out of 4 between Paris and Brest and 1 out of 3 between Paris and Quimper. 28% of SNCF railwaymen of strike. 43% of schoolteachers on strike.
The 5 main trade unions will meet tomorrow at 2pm French time.
"Forget your pride", make "peace with the French" Jean-Marc Ayrault tells Domenique de Villepin in parliament.
Clashes at the end of demonstration in Grenoble
Several hundred demonstrators block access to Mont-Saint-Michel, in Brittany.
8000 to 17,000 demonstrate in Tarbes, in the South-West of France.
Rennes train station has been penetrated, around 100 have blocked three trains, which are now stuck in the station. Police are yet to intervene. Photos from the demonstrations in Brittany.
Trouble in Savigny sur Orge in L'Essonne, southern Paris. Controntations between CRS and 'casseurs', Le Figaro reports.
Bernard Thibault of the CGT believes there are 3 million marching across France. "We are more than 3 million today in the streets, it is historical, it is unthinkable that the Prime Minister should continue to hold his position. For us, there is only one exit, it is the withdrawal of this reform"
First reports of trouble in Paris. A hundred casseurs 'penetrate' a supermarket in the 13th arrondissement.
Reports taken from Breton regional paper Ouest France:
20,000 in Saint Brieuc - the largest demonstration in that city since 1995. 15,000-25,000 in Lorient. In Caen, "this new demonstration marks the height of the mobilizations in Caen. The students and high-school pupils, at the head of march, continued to the esplanade of the town hall, before heading to the campus. Occupations are envisaged for this afternoon."
The trade-union and student organizations counted 3,500 people in Saint-Lo, the greatest number "ever seen for a local gathering", 10,000 in Cherbourg, 1500 in Coutances, 600 in Avranches (population 9000) and 500 in Granville. 7000 in Lannion.
Demonstrators gather in Paris, at the Place d'Italie, from where they will march across the Seine to the Place de la Republique.
31,000 to 100,000 march in the South Eastern city of Bordeaux. According to union figures, almost 1 million have now marched across France already today, before the demonstrations in Paris, Toulouse, Lille and many other towns and cities.
Between 30,000 to 50,000 marching in Rennes
Roanne - 12,000 to 20,000 inlcuding 3000 school students
Tours - 10,000 to 15,000
Far-right French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen describes todays strikes as 'illegal'.
Early figures show that perhaps the largest demonstrations yet have taken place across France this morning.
Early figures from Le Figaro (police estimate followed by union estimate):
Marseille - 250,000 (union estimate)
Lyon - 17,000 to 40,000
Limoges - 11,500 to 35,000
Grenoble - 26,000 to 60,000
Pau - 19,500 to 40,000
Caen - 18,000 to 40,000
Brest - 16,000 to 30,000
Rouen - 18,000 to 40,000
Le Havre 11,000 to 25,000
Nantes - 42,000 to 70,000
Le Mans - 10,000 to 30,000
Bayonne - 6500 to 11,000
Saint Brieuc - 12,000 to 30,000
Lorient - 10,000 to 25,000
Vannes - 5000 to 12,000
Orleans - 6800 to 12,000
Blois - 4000 to 6000
Saint-Denis in Reunion, 2000 to 4000
These are the highest figures yet for the anti-CPE demonstrations which have been taking place over the past ten weeks. If replicated across France this afternoon, we believe total numbers across France at the end of the day could be around 2 million or more.
Comparison between trade union figures for March 18th and today:
March 18th - 15,000
Today - 30,000
March 18th - 130,000
Today - 250,000
March 18th 45,000
Today - 70,000
March 18th - 15,000
Today - 40,000
Saint Brieuc
March 18th - 9,000
Today -30,000
March 18th - 30,000
Today - 40,000
March 18th - 25,000
Today - 40,000