PARIS (Reuters) - French riot police used teargas to disperse protesters outside the Paris auto show on Tuesday, during nationwide demonstrations over mounting job losses in a country where unemployment is at its highest since 1999 and economic growth at a standstill.
The incident came as the CGT labour union, one of the two biggest in France, sought to flex its muscles by organising the street rallies in the first nationwide protests since Socialist President Francois Hollande took power in May.
Police intervened after around 1,000 protesters including workers from a doomed PSA Peugeot Citroen plant attempted to break through a security cordon around the location of the car show on the edge of Paris, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.
Some protesters pelted the police with eggs and flour during the standoff.
France’s unemployment rate stands above 10 percent and the number of jobless has topped 3 million for the first time in 13 years.
CGT leader Bernard Thibault, who openly called for a vote to unseat former president Nicolas Sarkozy last May, said nothing was changing under Hollande, who has promised to slash France’s public deficit without killing growth or inflicting Greek-style cuts in spending on voters.
“We’re deep in crisis because of bad policy responses, quite simply,” Thibault told state television channel France 2. “If a majority of employees voted for a change of president it was because they wanted a change of economic and social policy.”
Thousands of people marched in Lyon and the southern port city of Marseille, according to police and union estimates, while other protests were planned in other cities.
As marchers hit the streets, French lawmakers were asked to approve a European pact that commits France, like other euro zone, countries to seek balanced public finances - a pact agreed to stem a debt crisis plaguing the region for more than two years.
Reporting by Pauline Mevel and Nicholas Vinocur in Paris and Jean-Francois Rosnoblet in Marseille; Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Alison Williams