France

Government warns of violence on ecotax demo Saturday

A lorry drives under an ecotax control point at Saint-Sébastien-sur-Loire near Nantes
A lorry drives under an ecotax control point at Saint-Sébastien-sur-Loire near Nantes Reuters/Stephane Mahe

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has warned against a "spiral of violence" ahead of Saturday's planned protest against a controversial tax on road freight, while one of his ministers claimed that "extremists" are preparing to make trouble at the demonstration in the port of Quimper in Brittany, western France.

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Despite the government's decision to suspend the ecotax, fishermen's and farmers' unions hope that thousands will turn out in Quimper on Saturday to call for it to be completely scrapped.

But, on a two-day visit to Russia, Ayrault called for "dialogue" and warned against possible clashes with police.

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"It's important to recall that France is a democratic country and the right to demonstrate exists," he said at a press conference with Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. "At the same time we can't be constructive if we become engaged in a spiral of violence."

In France Decentralisation Minister Marylise Lebranchu warned that "extremists" were descending on the coastal town ready to make trouble.

"We have feedback saying that a certain number of groups are already there and intend to make the demonstration more violent that one could unfortunately hope," she told Europe 1 radio. "We have been told of [anti-]marriage for all groups, extremes etcetara."

Press reports have monitored calls to back the protest on blogs and Facebook pages linked to this year's anti-gay marriage protests and far-right groups.

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Front National number two Florian Philippot said on Friday that his party was supporting the demo.

Last Saturday a demonstrator lost his hand after trying to throw a teargas grenade back at police.

His family has appealed for calm this Saturday.

The company subcontracted to collect the tax dismantled the control portal at Pont-de-Buis that was the focus of last week's protest on Friday.

Three left-wing trade unions have called a counterdemonstration supporting the tax, which is supposed to levy heavy goods vehicles to raise funds for rail and ecofriendly transport.

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