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Home News French police raid ice cream factory to free British manager

French police raid ice cream factory to free British manager

Published on January 16, 2008

   SAINT-DIZIER, France, January 16, 2008 - French police stormed an icecream factory on Tuesday to free a British manager who had been held hostageby workers angry over job cuts, officials said.   Paramedics reported 14 workers injured in the police operation to freePrakash Patel, who had been held captive in his office for one night aftermore than 250 redundancies were announced at the factory owned by theAnglo-Dutch food giant Unilever.   Patel was said to be unharmed. But tensions remained high with some workersburning tyres and wooden pallets in front of the factory gates even after thepolice raid.   The manager of the Cogesal-Miko plant in the eastern city of St Dizier wastrying to leave the factory on Monday night with a bailiff when about 40workers blocked his car and forced them to return to his office.   Unions had been angry after the company announced 254 job losses out of the493 workers at the plant. The staff who held Patel had demanded informationabout redundancy payments, witnesses said.   The manager had last Thursday lodged a complaint against a local unionofficial claiming he had been the target of xenophobic insults. The official'sunion called the action a "provocation."   About 10 police, led by the St Dizier police chief, took part in theoperation to free Patel, departmental prefect Yves Guillot told AFP.   "Some of the workers, despite being caught red-handed in the abduction,physically opposed the police. They tried to block the door. The police had topush to get in and there was a scuffle," added the government official.   The paramedics said the 14 suffered light injuries or shock.   "We were really scared. I was shocked. They were charging people like mewho are 57 years old," said Alain Didelot, a union official at the factorywhich has been making ice cream cones for 33 years.   Unilever announced the job cuts in November.   "I regret what happened during the night, which was really a uselessoffence which shows an irresponsible attitude. But I want a real socialdialogue," said Daniel Degove, chairman of Cogesal-Miko. He would not say ifthe company planned to press charges against the workers.   Unilever France said it would meet workers to discuss the planned changesat the plant.