President Hollande booed at Armistice Day event

A solemn Francois Hollande at the Arc de Triomphe - he later had to be whisked away. Picture: Getty Images
A solemn Francois Hollande at the Arc de Triomphe - he later had to be whisked away. Picture: Getty Images
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French president Francois Hollande has been booed during Armistice Day commemorations in Paris, as protests against him turned a solemn event to chaos.

More than 70 people were arrested when violent clashes erupted during yesterday’s ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe to remember France’s war dead.

National Front party supporters and opponents fought each other, while others protesting over same-sex marriage laws and tax rises all heckled Mr Hollande, 59, who has become France’s most unpopular president in recent history.

Millions were watching on live TV as demonstrators began jeering at the president, whom they accuse of raising taxes and passing deeply unpopular laws without consulting the public.

Many shouted “left-wing dictator” and “Hollande resign” before armed police moved in to silence the crowd, dragging away and arresting the ring-leaders. Among those held were activists from Brittany angry at a new eco-tax on heavy goods vehicles they say is forcing agricultural firms out of business.

Before the Armistice event was over, Mr Hollande and other ministers were whisked to the safety of waiting limousines and driven away with a police escort.

A spokesman for the ruling Socialist party said: “To exploit the presence of the president at such a solemn even is an outrage. There are times for peaceful demonstrations, and this was not one of them. It showed total disrespect for France’s war dead.”

Meanwhile, a French MP was stabbed three times as he attended an Armistice Day event in southern France.

Bernard Reynes, 60, a member of the right-wing UMP party, was attacked by a man at the cemetery in Chateaurenard, near Marseille, where he is also mayor. He was rushed to hospital in the city of Avignon.

The town’s deputy mayor, Francoise Cestier, and a local man, Louis Bouchet, also suffered stab wounds as they tried to prevent the attack and were treated in hospital.

A nationwide survey last week by pollster BVA revealed Mr Hollande had become the most unpopular president in five decades, with a personal approval rating of just 26 per cent, amid soaring unemployment and ballooning public debt.

That makes him even more unpopular than Charles de Gaulle was in 1968, when millions rioted against the established order of French society.

Mr Hollande came to power in May 2012 amid promises to redistribute wealth and rebuild France’s ailing public services.

He declared himself “anti-rich”, and was dubbed “Mr Normal” by the French press, in sharp contrast to outgoing president Nicolas Sarkozy, with his private jets, designer suits and supermodel wife.

He also promised a transparent government that would not tolerate the repeated political corruption scandals that tainted the Sarkozy regime.

But after almost 18 months in the job, he has been humiliated by a catalogue of political, economic and personal crises and found himself unable to control either the public finances or the wayward antics of “first lady” Valerie Trierweiler.

Millionaires have been fleeing France in fear of a proposed 75 per cent tax on all earnings over €1 million, while the French equivalent of the UK’s CBI has warned the president France risked becoming “the poor man of Europe” over his “disastrous” economic policies.

The latest data show household spending power has fallen for the first time since 1984, and the jobless rate is up to almost 11 per cent – the highest since 1997.

A spokesman for polling group Ifop said: “He claimed to be the Robin Hood president who would help the poor and sweep away the corruption of the Sarkozy years.

“But he has been hit on all sides, by the economy, his policies, corruption and personal attacks. No president has ever been re-elected after falling as low as this.”