France on the edge: Police vs firefighters – Battle of the emergency services

Firefighters brandish flares as they climb on the Statue of Republic Triumph at Nation square during a demonstration to protest against French government's plan to overhaul the country's retirement system in Paris, on January 28, 2020. AFP - BERTRAND GUAY

Police clashed with firefighters at a protest in Paris on Tuesday.

Thousands of firefighters attended the protest in the French capital, asking for an increase of their hazard bonus, which has not changed since 1990.

The Police deployed tear gas and water cannon against firefighters the witnessed six firefighters being arrested during the clashes, while three police were injured, according to reports.

“There is real anger and the problem is we’re not listened to,” Eric Brezault, a 46-year-old firefighter from southern France told Reuters. “That’s why people are getting more angry and it’s starting to get violent.”

Police fired tear gas and hit some protesters with batons.

In October, firefighters also protested in Paris, calling for better pay, guarantees of their pension benefits and greater respect for their profession.

France has seen widespread labour unrest since December, with unions mobilising against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to reform the pension system.

The dispute centred around poor pay and conditions for firefighters.

Unions organised the Paris protest for fire service workers all over the country. They set off noisy firecrackers in the capital’s Place de la Republique to bring attention to their cause.

Participants want a raise in risk pay from 19% to 25% to fulfil their missions – which they say reductions in personnel have made increasingly difficult. They say attacks against them are also on the rise.

Videos of the protest posted to social media on Tuesday showed firefighters responding to tear gas being fired at them by police, and scuffles with officers using their batons.

Firecrackers could also be heard being deployed, while orange flares doused parts of the protest route in an orange glow.

According to the Paris police department, officers intervened after several hundred protesters broke away from the main procession, while others attempted to break down safety barriers keeping them on course.

“Respect for the rules applies to everyone, whatever the nature of the event,” the force said alongside a video of protesters who appear to ram a barrier.

The demonstration, which comes after similar action in October, was organised to call for a rise in firefighters’ risk pay – something that hasn’t been increased since 1990 – from 19% of their salary to 25%.

They are also calling for better recognition of the riskiness of their profession, and a response to the number of attacks against personnel – which they say are on the rise.

Tuesday’s demonstration saw firefighters gathering at Place de la République in central Paris, before marching toward Place de la Nation.

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