Protests at Vichy’s first conference since war
France’s former pro-Nazi capital hosts its first international conference since WW2, while around 2000 people protest.
4 November 2008
VICHY - Protesters against Europe's immigration policy arrived in the town of Vichy Monday as the capital of France's former pro-Nazi regime hosted its first international government conference since World War II.
Anarchists burned three cars in the town centre and broke a shop window on the sidelines of the demonstration, organisers of the march and an AFP journalist said.
Riot police used tear gas after they were hit with objects.
Police said 1,700 people joined the protest while organisers estimated the figure was 2,500.
Shortly before the march police detained several demonstrators dressed as Nazi camp inmates. Some protesters said they sought to connect the pro-Nazi Vichy era with the EU countries' controversial immigration policies.
Police said these demonstrators were freed by Monday night.
Two other people were later arrested.
Vichy's municipal leaders hoped that by finally hosting European ministers 64 years after the fall of Marshall Petain's regime they could remove the wartime stigma and become a popular spa resort again.
But several busloads of activists arrived to protest a conference called to discuss the integration of ethnic minorities in Europe, with some linking current French policy to that of the pro-Nazi past.
"We denounce the worrying evolution of European migration policies, which recall the ideas that led to deportations at the end of the 1930s," said the leader of a small anti-globalisation group, Xavier Renou.
Before the conference, Vichy's conservative mayor Claude Malhuret expressed hope that the town could move on from the past.
"It's a scandal that there are 10 conferences per year in Berlin, Hitler's city, and in Moscow, Stalin's city, and no one says a thing, while Vichy has been shunned," said Malhuret.
He thanked Brice Hortefeux, France's minister of immigration, integration and national identity, for organising the conference.
"If conference organisers in the future are looking at Vichy, Evian and Cannes, they won't systematically choose Evian or Cannes," Malhuret said, speaking of a future when Vichy can compete with other potential venues.
"Things won't change overnight, but it's a way of rediscovering our dignity, and especially our ordinariness."
Officials from the 27 EU members are to hold two days of talks.
[AFP / Expatica]