Student Demos in France
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photo: bistro du viaduc
The closest bistro to the new Tolbiac métro station.

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

To balance this report, I should point out that teacher's unions are also very much involved. Besides being underpaid, these are the ones who face standing-room-only classrooms.

The education minister, who is on the bulls-eye of all this, Claude Allègre, is generally respected by all sides. He is a very talkative, but cool customer, and he is always saying he will see 'whatphoto: metro 14 sightseers can be done' to effect the 'déblocage de crédits supplémentaires.'

The new métro also has vantage points for 'sightseers,' which is a nice touch.

Whether these are funds budgeted for education, or some general slush fund available for pouring on the loudest squeaking door, I do not know. Whenever enough people get into a determined strike in France, it is always solved by the promise of a 'déblocage de crédits supplémentaires.'

Girls Just Wanna Strike Too

There is some evolutionary rule that good students sit at the front of classes and in modern times a majority of these are quite likely to be of the female gender.

Thus we were treated on Thursday's TV-news to the students' spokesman in the form of the articulate Alice Martin, after she had had a chat with the education minister, Claude Allègre.

According to yesterday's Libération, what impressed her most was the horde of the press reception waiting for her as she left her meeting with the minister, who she characterized as 'sincere.'

Alice Martin, 16, was elected to the student coordinating committee at a Thursday night meeting in the Latin Quarter - to represent the FIDL - Federation of Independent Democratic Students - which she had never heard of as recently as a week ago.

With a self-description of 'mainly timid' she not only doesn't look like 'Danny the Red,' she doesn't sound like him either.

Apparently, it is mainly girls who are class leaders. When it comes to putting out school papers or being actively involved with school life, girls outnumber the boys by five to one.

The Case of Bernard Tapie, Part 37

If not France's, then my favorite ex-businessman, ex-government minister, ex-actor, ex-soccer-club owner ex-con and current author, Bernard Tapie, is in a judicial clinch with the Crédit Lyonnais again.

Anti-corruption super-judge Eva Joly was talking to Mr. Tapie last week about suspected attempted fraud. When the Crédit Lyonnais lent Tapie a packet for one of his ventures, he in turn may have posted three valuable paintings as part of the bank's security.

Crédit Lyonnais now says the three paintings - a Modigliani and two Chagalls - are fakes. Tapie says they are, or were fakes, but that the originals werephoto: exterior gare de lyon never part of the credit-guarantee; only some old copies the bank seized from his residence along with other belongings.

A newspaper kiosk outside the Gare de Lyon.

Mr. Tapie won the first round some time ago when it was proved that the copies were inventoried as copies by an expert - so they were never considered part of the guarantees. Another expert says they weren't even copies, but totally invented 'in-the-style-of' pieces.

The Crédit Lyonnais kind of agrees with this, but says all the same that the fraud lies in replacing the real with the fakes and then passing off the fakes as real - regardless of them not being part of the guarantee. At least, I think this is what the bank claims.

That was on Monday. On Friday an appeals court was examining a Crédit Lyonnais civil suit against Mr. Tapie for putting up stuff valued at less than 50 million francs - which was supposed to be worth between 356 and 517 million francs - as guarantees.

On account of this, the bank tore up its 'friendly divorce' in March 1993 with Mr. Tapie - which plunged him into a cascade of debt and a non-stop legal whirlpool.

The bank won this 'divorce' in court, but this then put an earlier 'divorce' - more favorable to Mr. Tapie - back in force. So while some courts are trying to figure out whether there is any lack of 'good faith' here in regards to the paintings - by whom? - Mr. Tapie is thinking of suing Crédit Lyonnais for slander.

I have not the slightest doubt that this story will have a 'Part 38' too, so stay tuned for it here. Meanwhile, I understand Mr. Tapie's latest book is selling well. I think some of it has to do with his recent experiences in jail. I am sure it is a bestseller within the circles of judge Eva Joly's 'clients.'

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