Tens of thousands march against Israel in France
Dave Clark reports from a commercial area of east central Paris, where protesters marched for two hours, smashing a bus shelter and a telephone cabin.
PARIS - Some 123,000 protesters marched through Paris and many other French cities Saturday, the interior ministry said, to denounce Israeli's offensive in Gaza and express support for the Palestinian cause.
In Paris, thousands of French men and women of Arabic descent carrying Palestinian banners joined left-wing militants from other backgrounds, amid cries of "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greater) and "Israel murderer."
For two hours protesters filed through a commercial area of east central Paris, smashing a bus shelter and a telephone cabin, and after the crowd began to disperse bottles were thrown at riot police and shop windows smashed.
Police fired teargas near the marchers' destination, the Place de la Nation, after mobs overturned motor scooters and set them on fire.
The interior ministry put the turnout in the French capital at 30,000, with another 93,000 joining protests in 129 cities and towns elsewhere.
In the southern resort city of Nice, a similar march descended into violence. Seven police were hurt and 11 rioters arrested as youths broke off from a crowd of more than 2,500 protesters and smashed shop windows.
Earlier, as the groups gathered, portraits of slain Hamas chief Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah joined Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara and Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez.
A banner strung along a truck carrying a sound system declared: "Support for Hamas and the Armed Resistance". Other groups had a less violent message, but all the chants laid the blame for the fighting at Israel's door.
"We are all Palestinians. We are all children of Gaza," the cortege chanted as it set off down a tree-lined boulevard separating eastern Paris's immigrant districts from the Marais, the city's oldest Jewish quarter.
"I have no problem marching with Hamas. Hamas has been victim of a campaign of disinformation," Mark Cramer, a 62-year-old US expatriate, originally from New York and a founder member of Paris group Americans Against the War.
Cramer put the blame for last month's collapse of the Middle East ceasefire on Israel. "There was a mediaeval siege against Gaza. That siege was violent. People were starving," he said.
Mina, 28-year-old French protester said: "I'm here to express my anger. I'm fed up to the back teeth with this genocide."
Greens, pacifists, trade unionists, revolutionary socialists, Trotskyists and Marxist-Leninists marched alongside younger protesters in keffiyah scarves, waving the banners of armed groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.
Some 3,800 police were deployed with riot shields and body armour, but until challenged by rioters remained in side streets as the crowd marched under a sea of Palestinian, Algerian, Turkish, Lebanese and Hezbollah flags.
Police and an AFP reporter at the scene estimated the crowd at 30,000, whereas the organisers claimed to have assembled 100,000.
"We want to point to the hypocrisy of an international community which votes for tons of resolutions that it never enforces," declared Olivier Besancenot, the leader of France's Revolutionary Communist League.
While the groups organising the demonstration focused their slogans on the suffering of Palestinian civilians, many homemade banners declared "Zionism equals Nazism" and depicted Israeli flags emblazoned with swastikas.
Elsewhere in France, smaller crowds gathered for demonstrations in several cities. In Nice, on the Mediterranean Riviera, protesters smashed the windows of a McDonald's restaurant and threw stones at the seafront Ruhl casino.
"McDonald's because they're American, they're the paymasters," one marcher said. "And Ruhl because they're Jews," added another.
Police fired teargas and made at least 11 arrests. The mayor of the city, Christian Estrosi, complained that the interior ministry had not given him enough police reinforcements to control the crowd.
As the protest movement has gathered pace in the three weeks since Israel launched its attacks on Gaza, the interior ministry and Jewish associations have warned of a rising mood of violent anti-Semitism.
Israel's campaign against Gaza's rulers, the Hamas Islamist militia, has left around 800 Palestinians dead. Both Israel and Hamas have rejected global demands for a ceasefire.
In the northern industrial city of Lille around 10,000 protesters marched, while 5,000 turned out in Lyon and 4,000 each in Marseille and Nantes, the interior ministry said. Some 3,500 gathered in the Alpine city of Grenoble.