Paris chaos as cabbies block roads in protest over Uber

Taxi drivers parade on the west end of the Champs-Elysees. Picture: AFP/Getty
Taxi drivers parade on the west end of the Champs-Elysees. Picture: AFP/Getty
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Paris police fired tear gas and taxi drivers lit bonfires on a motorway yesterday amid nationwide strikes and protests over working conditions and competition from app-based services such as Uber.

Prime minister Manuel Valls agreed to an emergency meeting with taxi drivers yesterday in an apparent attempt to defuse tensions. The protests are the latest challenge to the Socialist government as it tries to modernise the economy and find France’s place in an increasingly globalised, online marketplace.

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One in five flights were cancelled at Paris airports and other flights faced delays as air traffic controllers staged a walkout and taxi drivers blocked roads.

Twenty people were detained at protests around the French capital, according to Paris police, and it was reported that two people were injured at Orly when a shuttle bus tried to force its way past a taxi drivers’ blockade.

Some teachers and other public servants were also on strike over wages, education reforms and working ­conditions.

Hundreds of French taxis, joined by a few from Belgium and Spain, blocked an intersection into western Paris. Dozens of taxi drivers tried to march on to an eight-lane bypass, but police pushed them back with tear gas. Some drivers set pre-dawn bonfires, put out later by firefighters.

Traditional taxi drivers say they’re suffering unfair competition from Uber, which has faced legal challenges around Europe.

Uber’s lowest-cost service is banned in France and two Uber executives go on trial next month in Paris for fraud. Previous French taxi protests have also turned violent, with ambushes of Uber drivers and passengers.

Karim Asnoun, head of the CGT Taxi Union, said: “Unfortunately the governments are weak and as unemployment is pressuring them, they yield. They think they are creating jobs, whereas for every job created, one is destroyed.”

Uber sent a message to French customers warning of potential violence, saying the goal of yesterday’s protest was “to put pressure on the government to ... limit competition.” It warned that limiting app-based car services would raise costs, put drivers out of work and send customers back to the era “before apps and smartphones.”

Protests were also held in other French cities. Uber drivers “ruin professionals who are paying taxes, who respect the rules,” said Rachid Boudjema, 37, president of the taxi drivers union in Marseille.

Mr Boudjema attacked San Francisco-based Uber as “American cowboys” who “want to destroy the system, to which we are all attached.”