Violence erupts on fringes of Paris demo

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French police wielding batons charged dozens of young men who threw bottles, set fires and tore up manhole covers as violence erupted on the fringes of a protest against economic hardship Thursday.

PARIS - Officers in riot gear intervened in the Opera District of central Paris as pockets of trouble broke out at the edge a crowd of tens of thousands.

The protesters, mainly men in their early 20s, some wearing scarves over their faces, overturned bins and lit bonfires in a main shopping boulevard and the dramatic Place de L'Opera, a major tourist draw.

They chanted demands for President Nicolas Sarkozy's resignation and tossed large green wheelie-bins at a line of police behind riot shields.

The stone-throwers were pushed back by several baton charges towards the Place de l'Opera where the protesters found themselves surrounded by police lines, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

The youths had attempted to take the Boulevard des Capucines, which would have taken them towards the capital's most prestigious shopping areas and Sarkozy's official residence the Elysee Palace.

"We're headed to the Elysee," one protester, who identified himself as a nursing student, told AFP. An official from Paris police command confirmed that officers had intervened to block this route.

Another youth, his face hidden with a scarf, said that he had not come to join the main demonstration, but to seek confrontation with police. "They are always harrassing us," he explained, when asked why he was throwing stones.

Police successfully cleared the boulevards leading away from the square, but demonstrators remained there, some drinking and playing drums. As a tense party atmosphere developed, a truck arrived playing music.

Earlier, the huge and initially largely peaceful rally organised by France's main trade unions had marched through Paris to protest against Sarkozy's response to the economic crisis.


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