May Day in France: six police injured as violent group hijacks Paris march

  • IMF says more reforms still needed by Mideast oil exporters

France’s political, personal and social divisions divisions were laid bare on the streets of Paris on Monday as May Day marches dominated by the final round vote in the presidential election saw violent clashes between police and masked youths.

Six riot police officers were injured, one with third-degree burns to his hand and face, in Paris when a group of about 150 people armed with molotov cocktails, stones and sticks hijacked the traditional May Day march organised by French unions.

Thousands had joined the celebration, with many using the occasion to protest against the far-right presidential candidate Marine le Pen and her party, the Front National. Police said 142,000 people attended May Day marches across France.

Shortly after the Paris march set off from the central Place de la République, a group with scarves covering their faces forced their way to the front and began throwing missiles at police, who responded with teargas. Some pulled masonry from the walls of buildings to throw at the police and several shopping bags and backpacks filled with stones and bottles were found.

Even before the violence, the march had got off on the wrong foot. Unable to agree on how best to confront the prospect of Le Pen becoming the country’s next president – by voting blank, abstaining or choosing Emmanuel Macron – the unions went their separate ways, with two organising a breakaway gathering in north Paris on Monday morning.

The main march took place hours later, when tens of thousands of people set off from Place de la République heading for Place de la Nation, via Bastille, three of the French capital’s most symbolic squares.

The eliminated hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon was given a rapturous welcome by supporters, leaving him close to tears. They carried banners calling for voters to shun the FN but, like their leader, none were publicly calling for a Macron vote.

“We have nothing in common with Mr Macron,” said Paul Vannier, who plans to stand for parliament as a candidate for Mélenchon’s France Unbowed movement in the legislative elections that follow later this month.

He said it was up to Macron to “stop insulting us … and take a step in our direction”. “It for him to make sure Marine Le Pen is eliminated,” Vannier said.

Other marchers carried banners rejecting both Le Pen’s nationalism and Macron’s neoliberalism, reading “ni patrie, ni patron” – meaning “not homeland nor boss”.

The street battles erupted hours after Le Pen had laid into Macron at her final major rally in the capital. She appeared before a delirious crowd in north-east Paris, where supporters chanted: “This is our home.”

In the meantime, the International Monetary Fund said on Tuesday oil exporting countries in the Middle East continue to have the world’s largest energy subsidy bill and that additional reforms are still needed to curb government spending.

In its updated regional outlook report, the IMF said money spent each year on subsidies from these oil exporting countries is down from $190 billion in 2014 to a current estimate of $86 billion a year. This was largely due, however, to a global decline in energy prices since mid-2014, when prices had climbed above $100 a barrel.

Persistently lower oil revenues have forced governments to consolidate spending, particularly in the Gulf where many citizens have grown accustomed to generous perks, subsidies and cushy public sector jobs as a result of their countries’ oil wealth.

Across the Middle East, oil exporting countries were able to reduce overall budget deficits to an estimated $375 billion for the five year period between 2016 and 2021, down from last year’s projected $565 billion deficit.

To reduce spending, the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates have implemented sensitive austerity measures, including lifting some subsidies, including on gas and electricity.

However, it was largely a bump in the price of oil from an average of $42 a barrel in 2016 to a projected $55 a barrel in 2017 that helped run down the expected deficit of GCC countries to $240 billion, from a 2016 projected outlook of $350 billion.

“Going forward, we believe additional reforms are still needed as well as fiscal reforms for the GCC countries to keep reducing the level of deficit,” said Jihad Azour, IMF’s Mideast and Central Asia department director.

The IMF report said 6.5 million people will be entering the workforce by 2022 in the oil-exporting countries of the GCC, Iran and Algeria — meaning these countries will urgently need to create more private sector jobs.

Although an agreement last year by major oil-producing countries to cut crude oil output helped increase prices, the outlook for the oil market remains uncertain.

Azour told The Associated Press that plans by the GCC to introduce a value-added tax next year is one way to boost revenue.

Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s largest economy, has also embarked on an ambitious plan to decrease its dependence on oil exports and diversify its economy. The drop in oil prices has pushed the kingdom’s foreign reserves down to $508 billion.

Limiting the availability of public sector jobs and reducing spending on civil servant perks has sparked some criticism in countries such as Saudi Arabia, where citizens complain of already low wages. After just seven months, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman last week issued a decree reinstating public sector perks in an effort “to provide comfort to Saudi citizens.”

Guardian with additional report from ABC