Paris: Sporadic violence erupted as tens of thousands of people took to the streets in dozens of French cities on Saturday in the latest protests against labour reforms seen as threatening workers` rights.
Police and protesters clashed in western Rennes and Nantes as well as Paris, leaving several injured, as demonstrations across the country aimed to keep up pressure against the reforms, which will make it easier for struggling companies to fire workers.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve strongly condemned the unrest, which he blamed on a small number of fringe protesters.
"These ultra-radical elements behind the violence have nothing to do with the vast majority of demonstrators," he said in a statement. At least seven police officers were injured overall, he added.
From Paris to northern Lille, to eastern Strasbourg and southwestern Toulouse, some 200 cities saw protests over "The Bosses` Law", as it was dubbed on a marcher`s banner in Toulouse.
"We`re starting the second month (of protests)," Jean-Claude Mailly of the Force Ouvriere trade union said in Paris as the sixth in a relentless series kicked off. "We`re not afraid of losing steam."
Turnout however was far lower than a peak on March 31 when 390,000 people took part, according to police, while the total of organisers` estimates was 1.2 million nationwide.
The interior ministry estimated Saturday`s crowds at 120,000 nationwide and said 26 people were arrested.
It said up to 20,000 marched in Paris, while organisers said there were five times as many.
Police in Rennes used tear gas and stun grenades in clashes with protesters, with three members of the security forces needing emergency care and unconfirmed reports of another 19 people injured.
In Nantes, hundreds of youths erected barricades and threw stones, bottles and eggs at security forces who responded with stun guns and tear gas.
Paris police also used tear gas against several dozen masked protesters throwing bottles and firecrackers. Three officers were lightly injured in the brief clashes.
The labour reforms, which have already been diluted once in a bid to placate critics, are considered unlikely to achieve their stated goal of reining in unemployment, which stands at 25 percent among young people.
Socialist President Francois Hollande`s government is desperate to push through the reforms, billed as a last-gasp attempt to boost the flailing economy before next year`s presidential election.