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Portals set on fire, traffic blocked as French ecotax protests continue

Farmers obstruct traffic on the Brussels-Paris motorway in Valenciennes on Friday
Farmers obstruct traffic on the Brussels-Paris motorway in Valenciennes on Friday Reuters/Pascal Rossignol

Protests against France's ecotax continued Saturday, despite the government's suspension of the controversial levy on road freight. Three control portals were attacked and morotways were blocked in the south of France, although Brittany, the scene of large protests over the last few weeks, was relatively calm.

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Only a few hundred people took part in anti-ecotax protests on Friday night and Saturday, compared to tens of thousands who rallied against the measure a week before.

About 250 people rallied at the feet of a control portal in a town near the Breton capital, Rennes, on Saturday, and another was reportedly planned in another town in the region in the afternoon.

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While the supension pledge seems to have calmed the situation in Brittany for the moment, protests spread south on Saturday.

Lorry drivers obstructed traffic on the A46 motorway near Lyon and further south on the A55, in the Gard region near Avignon a portal was set on fire and another was damaged, while a third was set on fire in the French Alps.

In the north-east lorry drivers slowed traffic on the A1 Paris-Lille motorway and on the A25 between Dunkirk and Lille.

Three people were arrested during an attempted attack on a portal on the Paris ringroad on Saturday morning.

They were already known to police as members of the far-right Printemps français group, which was born during the campaign against France's same-sex marriage law, sources told the AFP news agency.

The Red Bonnets movement, which has taken the lead in previous protests, announced on Friday that they would hold another demonstration on 30 November "somewhere in Brittany".

A group of employees of Ecomouv', the company that won the contract to collect the tax, have written an open letter complaining that the tax's suspension has left them without work.

They say that 59 trainees who had been promised full-time contracts have been laid off and about 20 have not had their short-term contracts renewed and accuse the government of "giving in to people who threaten to smash up" official buildings.

Apart from the trainees, Ecomouv's centre at Metz, eastern France, employs 210 full-time workers and 17 part-time.

The government has no intention of scrapping the tax because of an estimated cost of 1.5 billion euros, according to Le Monde newspaper.

But, the paper reports, it will not be put into effect before summer 2014.

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