Student Demos in France
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Tapie Is Talking To Judges Again

Paris:- Sunday, 18. October 1998:- Last Thursday's student demonstration in Paris turned into a demolition derby that left about 50 shops trashed and a 100 cars torched, as well as a small number of injured.

About once every four years, a new generation of students sets out to protest against overcrowded classrooms and lack of teachers, with ample reason.

About once every four years, whatever government is in power, promises solemnly to fix the situation. I think this cycle has been going on for about 500 years now.

Students by definition, are not professional demonstrators - especially as they only really do it in a big way about as often as leap-years. The great mass of students - about 500,000 were on the streets of France on Thursday - are simply protesting against what they consider to be government indifference.

However, a new element was added to the demonstration in Paris on Thursday. A small group of wreckers showed up to have a 'free bash' under the cover of the student gathering.

According to eyewitnesses, the 'casseurs,' as they are called here, arrived an hour before the students were to assemble at 11:30 at the place de la Nation. Afterwards, on TV-news, a police unionphoto: TV-F2 'casseurs' spokesman said the SNCF and RATP reported damage to incoming trains as early as 9:30. And the 'casseurs' continued this at Nation.

Fireman dousing burning car outside the Santé prison. Photo: F2-TV.

According to local merchants the Paris police, who had 2,000 agents stationed behind scenes - did nothing to stop the pillage and wrecking before the student demo started. The police later said, 'Better a few windows broken than heads.'

The 'casseurs' who were estimated to number about 1,000, were soon outnumbered by the vast mass of the students, said to number 28,000. A mass, by the way, in which they could hide if the police made a move to intervene.

Unlike union or political demos, the students do not have muscular, organized and experienced security units of their own, so they had no way to keep the 'casseurs' out of their midst. This 'lack of professionalism' was also cited by police for their less than muscular interventions.

To civilians, this relative passivity by the police was inexplicable. Students, while mostly non-violent, are unpredictable and they have their history of no-holds-barred battles with the police. The activities of 'casseurs' - not limited to France; also notorious in Germany - are known to the police, but it seemed as if there was a 'hole' in police intelligence and they were caught by surprise.

Not only this, but the 'casseurs' operate almost as if they've trained in teams for these breaking and wrecking excursions, and are well-equipped with porti-phones for use in co-coordinating large-group actions. To be properly equipped, they stole a large stock from a shop during the fray.

One policeman who was attacked by a band was seriously hurt and the investigation of this is in the hands of the criminal police. In all, the battles in Paris lasted three hours; and the student march was called off before reaching its destination.

The administration of 'law and order' showed a tough face on Friday when those caught were hastily run through an express judicial proceeding. The haul: 116 'casseurs' in Paris, and a total of 170 arrested throughout France. These were getting their 'day in court' on Friday and some were getting hard-time.

Others in court on Friday, claimed they had merely picked up cartons of cigarettes left in the wake of destroyed 'Tabacs.' Also on Friday, many 'casseurs' turned out to be 'students,' as most of them are in fact enrolled in schools in the Paris region.

Officially, these 'students' took the liberty to do a little 'freelance' looting, but I think they were caught being in the wrong place at the wrong time, too near the wrong people, and far easier to catch than the small hardcore of experienced 'casseurs.'

On Friday, 4,000 students were again demonstrating in Paris, at the place des Vosges.

The Next Strike

This has been called nationally for this Tuesday, and student groups in Paris have been given a permit to use about the same route as last Thursday. Student spokesmen vowed to beef up their own security and it is not hard to imagine that the Paris police will be very much in evidence.

Tuesday hs been picked, to 'maintain pressure' on the government, which will be voting on the education budget proposals in the National Assembly on Wednesday.

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