Hollande slams violent protests, but wants Uber out

The busy Porte Maillot junction in Paris was one of several places hit by violence as taxi drivers clashed with Uber drivers on Thursday.
The busy Porte Maillot junction in Paris was one of several places hit by violence as taxi drivers clashed with Uber drivers on Thursday.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS - French President Francois Hollande yesterday condemned violent protests against transport app provider Uber after taxi drivers set fire to vehicles and blocked highways, but said the service should be taken off the road.

He described the demonstrations, in which US rocker Courtney Love was caught up, as "unacceptable violence in a democracy, in a country like France".

But Mr Hollande, attending a European Union summit in Brussels, said: "UberPOP should be dissolved and declared illegal."

The service has been illegal in France since January, but the law has been difficult to enforce, and it continues to operate.

Some 3,000 cabbies took part in the strike on Thursday, blocking access to the capital's airports and preventing cars from reaching train stations around the country.

Ten people were arrested, seven police officers injured and 70 vehicles damaged in clashes between Uber drivers and taxi drivers. The cabbies are furious at what they see as unfair competition from Uber, which puts customers in touch with private drivers at prices lower than those of traditional taxis.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said after meeting taxi drivers' unions: "UberPOP is an illegal service, it must be closed down." Until that was done, "the vehicles of UberPOP drivers should be systematically impounded when they are openly breaking the law", he said.

One of the taxi drivers' representatives, Mr Ibrahima Sylla, described the minister's words as "promises, again" and said the drivers were considering continuing the demonstrations.

Most cabbies heeded their unions' calls to return to work yesterday, but around 40 die-hards remained at the busy Porte Maillot junction in western Paris.

Ms Love, widow of US musician Kurt Cobain, was caught up in a confrontation near Charles de Gaulle airport on Thursday. She tweeted that protesters "ambushed" her vehicle and "were holding our driver hostage".

She appealed to Mr Hollande in another message, writing: "This is France?? I'm safer in Baghdad."

In the most serious incident in Paris, angry taxi drivers smashed and set on fire two chauffeur-driven vans in the west of the capital.

The government on Wednesday obtained a court order banning Uber from operating in Paris, but the firm dismissed the move.

"We will fight it (in the courts)... For the time being, it changes nothing, UberPOP can continue to operate," head of Uber France Thibaud Simphal told the BFM Business channel.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2015, with the headline 'Hollande slams violent protests, but wants Uber out'. Print Edition | Subscribe