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French Police Demonstrate Against Anti-Police Violence


Police held demonstrations in towns across France today to condemn what they say is increased violence against them. Much of the violence has taken place during recent protests over the government's plans to change the labor code. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has this report from Paris.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: About 2,000 off-duty police officers gathered at Paris's Place de la Republique today. The area was tightly cordoned off by their on-duty colleagues to prevent victims of police violence from holding a counter demonstration. Philippe Capon, head of one of the main police unions, addressed the crowd.

PHILIPPE CAPON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "We are here today to say stop to the violence done to police," he said. Footage of the recent violence police have endured was shown on a giant screen. Three-hundred-fifty officers have been injured, including yesterday in Central Paris in clashes around the labor law protests.

Police and protesters say the violence is carried out by a small minority of hooligans who infiltrate the marches and throw Molotov cocktails and rocks at the police. Thirty-three-year-old Loic Hardelain has been a policeman for 13 years. He says he's never seen it so bad.

LOIC HARDELAIN: (Through interpreter) These are anarchists who hide in the ranks of the marchers, and their only goal is to smash things and hurt police. We are direct targets now.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in French).

BEARDSLEY: The police called on the French government to prosecute the youths and keep them out of demonstrations. Many remarked that the current climate is a turnaround from 16 months ago when police were applauded in the streets after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. Since that time, police have been working around the clock, and many say they're exhausted.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Those protesting the government's labor policies also deplore the violence, but they say they'll stay in the streets until the government drops its plan to change the labor code. This week they're being joined by truckers, dockers and rail workers who are blocking roads and ports and walking off the job. They say President Francois Hollande's bill turns the clock back on social progress and makes workers' lives more precarious by making it easier for companies to lay them off.

For Hollande, changing France's rigid labor code is a last last-ditch effort to bring down the country's chronically high unemployment rate before the French presidential election next year. It's the first time a president from the left has faced such a revolt from his own camp. But Hollande said this week that he would stand his ground.

FRANCOIS HOLLANDE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "This law will pass," he said. "Too many government have backed down, and that's why I've found the country in such a state in 2012."

Passengers stare up at cancellation boards at Paris's St. Lazare train station. Economist Jean Louis Daudier is late for his job at an insurance company. He believes the contested labor bill will eventually help create jobs, but he says while Americans may fear inflation, the French have a greater fear of losing their job.

JEAN LOUIS DAUDIER: The big problem for French people is unemployment, so when you see there will be a reform, it will be easier to fire people, et cetera. People are afraid. They don't want any reforms.

BEARDSLEY: Daudier says the bill will eventually pass, but he doesn't believe Hollande will survive for a second term. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.