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  • French riot police face off with demonstrators during a protest in Paris.

    French riot police face off with demonstrators during a protest in Paris. | Photo: Reuters

Published 22 June 2016

A major French union secured government approval to proceed with planned marches after the initial ban was met with a furious popular reaction.

French authorities sparked outraged Wednesday when police announced a ban on demonstrations that were set to hit the streets with tens of thousands of protesters against controversial labor reforms.

However, public outcry forced the government to relent on Thursday and lift the unprecedented ban on public assembly.

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Progressive groups had slammed the decision to block the protest, saying it would mark the first time a union-organized demonstration was outlawed since protests against the colonial war in Algeria during the early 1960’s, when standoffs with police resulted in multiple protester deaths.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said he had personally ordered the ban before deciding to allow the protest on Thursday after an emergency meeting with the unions where a compromise was agreed on the location of the rally.

Police cited “security needs of people and property” and a perceived “terrorist threat” to justify the decision to ban the protest, saying authorities had “no choice but to ban the demonstration.”

French President Francois Hollande threatened to lay down a ban earlier this month when protests amid the Euro 2016 soccer tournament sparked incidents of violence in Paris, injuring dozens.

The clampdown on protests also comes after negotiations between key unions and the government started to disintegrate when labor leaders refused to heed government calls to contain their demonstration in designated squares without marching in the streets. The unions have been demonstrating since early March against planned reforms to loosen labor regulations and make hiring and firing easier.

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Expressing inflamed outrage on the part of protesters, CGT union official Benjamin Amar called the decision “a declaration of war” in an interview with BFM TV, vowing to take protesters to the streets as planned on Thursday.

The French government’s business-friendly labor reforms have sparked widespread discontent and a series of protests in recent months as workers fear decreased job security in the name of pursuing authorities’ plans for a more flexible labor force.

Defying a protest ban could land demonstrators up to six months in jail under French law.

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