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Violence on Paris streets as millions protest against Nicolas Sarkozy's handling of economic crisis

Violent skirmishes broke out in Paris last night after a day in which millions took to the streets as part of a nationwide protest over the government's handling of the economic crisis.

Schools, courts, post offices, universities and hospitals were closed, with public transport severely disrupted, as up to 200 marches were organised against President Nicolas Sarkozy's approach to the global downturn.

The biggest protests were in Paris, where police said up to 85,000 people took five hours to walk from Place de la République to Place de la Nation. As the light faded, hundreds of riot police were sent to the area where anarchist groups waving revolutionary flags were among those massing. Riot police fired rounds of tear gas after demonstrators lit fires and smashed shop windows. Fighting broke out on all corners of the square, with police moving in to try to arrest ring leaders.

Chants of "Sarkozy resign" were heard as what appeared to be well organised gangs went on the rampage in surrounding streets, targeting banks and other symbols of capitalism.A riot police spokesman said: "There are a number of people who seem

”As the light faded, hundreds of riot police were sent to the area where anarchist groups waving revolutionary flags were among those massing.”

determined to cause trouble. We are doing everything we can to maintain order."

There were more than 300 arrests in Paris alone, according to police. Ten officers were seriously injured by a variety of missiles, including bottles, metal bars and bricks.

Earlier, unions said that the number of protesters nationwide had approached three million. Police put the estimate at greater than the two million who took part in similar demonstrations at the end of January.

The latest strike won support across the country, with three quarters of those questioned in polls saying they feared for their futures.

Mr Sarkozy unveiled a package of proposals, including tax breaks and social benefits, after January's strike, but protesters said the £2.3 billion deal was not enough. The president said on Wednesday he understood "the concerns of the French people" but ruled out plans for further measures.

He rejected mounting calls by unions and the opposition to suspend a 50 per cent cap on income tax, arguing that it would drive wealthy taxpayers abroad.

The CGT (confederation of labour) led the Paris demonstration behind a banner that read: "United against the crisis, defend employment, spending power and public services". continues here

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