PARIS (AFP) - Protests in France against ride-booking app Uber turned violent on Thursday as taxi drivers burned cars and blocked access to airports and train stations.
Some 2,800 cabbies took part in the strike, with more than 30 blockades nationwide, including the access points to Paris's Charles De Gaulle and Orly airports, police sources said.
Taxi drivers in France are furious over an Uber service called UberPOP, which puts customers in touch with private drivers at prices lower than those of traditional taxis.
Licensed cabbies say the service is endangering their jobs by flooding the market with low-cost drivers.
UberPOP has been banned in France since January, but the law has proved difficult to enforce and the service continues to operate.
One private chauffeur, who said he did not work for Uber "or any other app" was dragged from his van by angry cabbies when he reached a blockade in the west of Paris. They slashed his tyres, smashed a window and then set it on fire.
"Why did you come to work, you know we're on strike today," shouted one cabbie, while AFP journalists saw another car on fire further down the road.
Another driver said the strikers had been driven to desperation.
"Taxi drivers - alright, they've got big mouths - but normally they're not aggressive," said Malia, 50, who has been a taxi driver for three years.
"But these guys have families to feed, debts. They've been pushed to the brink."
Police eventually fired tear gas and broke up the protest on the western stretch of motorway, clearing burning tyres from the road that rings the capital, but there were later attempts to stall traffic.
"UberPOP is illegal. It's the law and it must be respected. We get the feeling the government is letting this happen," said Rene Pierre-Jean, a member of the CGT union manning a barricade outside the Gare du Nord station in Paris.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called for calm and said he had told prosecutors to bring a prohibition order against the UberPOP service.
- Banned in France -
Peaceful protests played out at transport hubs in other major cities including Toulouse and Marseille.
"UberPOP is banned, but it's still here," cabbie Stephane Molla said in the south-western city of Bordeaux.
"We have to go through the whole routine: the licence, the rates we don't set, bans on flat-rate plans," added another driver, Fabrice Moreau.
Fearing that its professional drivers will be mistaken for UberPOP drivers, the private-hire cab firm Allocab told its workers on Wednesday to have passengers ride in the front seat.
Cabbies in France, like their colleagues in several other countries, have held several protests against the app - some of which have turned violent, with Uber clients and drivers reporting being assaulted.
On at least two occasions in Strasbourg in the east of France last week, taxi drivers posed as customers in order to lure Uber drivers to isolated spots where they were assaulted by cab drivers and their vehicles damaged.
US-based Uber, which offers several types ride-sharing services, claims to have 400,000 UberPOP users in France. However, the drivers do not pay taxes, do not undergo the 250 hours of training that is mandatory for cabbies and do not carry the same insurance as taxis.
Since UberPOP was banned in France, its drivers risk up to a year in prison and a 15,000-euro (S$22,600) fine.