Paris - account and photos from our correspondent

A personal account and accompanying photos of the Paris anti-CPE demonstration and riot from one of our correspondents in Paris.

Submitted by libcom on March 19, 2006

The metro on the way to the demo was packed, barely breathing space; it emptied entirely at St Jacques and we started marching to Place Renfort for the demo... Right away it was clear that this was as big a demo as I'd ever seen, maybe Make Poverty History would be bigger, but that doesn't count.

Generally people were having a good time, each party/union had their own sound system, and while some groups tried to lead their members in chants, many were content just to blare out crap french punk. Everyone was having a laugh, and les jeunes were passing around tins of cheap lager, rose and joints. So kind of like a massive Reclaim the Streets for some people.

After no end of milling around, the march got going, but it took several hours for all the groups to start moving. The CGT seemed to have an endless supply of vans filled with sound systems and speakers leading the union branch in the slogan, "retrait!retrait! retrait cpe!". As the march passed the prison, the demonstrators cheered the prisoners who were at their cell windows. As the Anarchist groups moved past, the sound systems started playing as loudly as possible, and everyone raised their fists. This wasnt enough for some, and a symbolic attack was launched upon the prison walls, bottles and other debris bouncing off the brickwork. The march moved on eventually, and a few took the chance to graffiti a bank and others put their tag APH everywhere.

As the march moved up Boulevard Aragon, towards le grand place, the crowd had broken up and was streaming back, people with faces streaming trying to get back. I moved forward and the air got thick with tear gas.

There was a large crowd in Le Place, and the CRS had sealed off all the roads away, and eventually moved up to seal the road behind us. They were clearly looking for some kind of conflict, but the crowd was ill prepared to meet it. The main area of confrontation was at one of the rues leading off from the centre of Le Place. The CRS were several lines deep, and the crowd occupied the centre. The cops threw lots of tear gas, and made frequent baton charges. The crowd would retreat and surge back, throwing back tear gas canisters and whatever debris they could find; occasionally pushing les flics back. The only weapons that les jeunes had was bottles, litter, broken glass from bus shelters and other rubbish that was no use against the plexiglass shields and full body armour of the CRS.

After several of these returns, the cops made a series of sustained charges, driving the crowd away from the centre and then back further, constantly trying to drive lines between them. The crowd kept coming back, becoming suddenly animated to attack, but with little to no weaponry and constant tear gas, it was a losing battle. Successive charges drove us back, dislodging us from the embankments circling the place, which had been a rallying point. The shout went up "a la sorbonne!" and it echoed around, but at this stage, there was no clear escape and too much confusion to mount any cohesive movement. Further charges drove us into a police line, where we were pepper sprayed and several hundreds pushed down Boulevard Aragon. By the time i was able to see again, I could only follow their trail, burning barricades and overturned cars showing successive retreats. I met with some jeunes. Picking up stones from the side of the road, they planned to go to the sorbonne, but had little idea how to get there, it seemed to sum up the night for jeunes.

Personally, I think that the sealing of Le Place was a clear provocation by the CRS, they were looking for a confrontation. From the start, the crowd were separated, the unions and more moderate protestors intimidated by the violence. The people who remained were primarily les jeunes, largely male and no match for the CRS. The people I'd spoken to before hadnt expected violence, they had thought that the cops would leave the demo alone on account of the size. Few had masks, and even less had any sort of weapon, so I think its very unlikely that there was any desire for violence from les jeunes. By creating a violent situation, the French government may intend to split the anti-CPE movement, portraying les jeunes as violent hooligans. By removing large-scale public expression from the movement, the cops might hope to be able to suppress the more militant tendencies in the universities and on the streets.

For the rest of the photos associated with this article, see our CPE photo gallery.