January 30, 2009
The streets filled with flag-waving protesters and in Paris protesters clashed with police, throwing bottles, overturning cars and starting a fire in the street.
Labour leaders hailed the strikes and rallies, which marked the first time France’s eight union federations had joined forces against the government since Sarkozy took office in 2007.
“This is one of the biggest days of worker action in the past 20 years,” said Francois Chereque, head of the large, moderate CFDT group.
Unions said 2.5 million people took part in dozens of rallies across France, including 300,000 in Paris. Police put the figure at just over a million nationwide.
Full-blooded chants echoed out across the Place de la Bastille in Paris, with the symbol of the French Revolution at the centre of a day of anti-government demonstrations.
Although the interior ministry said that the protesters numbered just over one million, they were the biggest since Mr Sarkozy came to power in 2007 and on a par with the last huge demonstration, in March 2006, which hastened the exit of the prime minister of the time, Dominique de Villepin.