Clashes with riot police in Nantes, western France, errupted at an anti-Le Pen protest. Two people have been arrested, and three more taken to a police station for identification.
Riot police fired tear gas to contain protesters who had staged a demonstration, initially organised against a speech by the National Front leader Marine Le Pen scheduled for Sunday. The police had to summon a water cannon to the central square of the town.
The march by anti-fascist and far-left union protesters in Nantes, turned ugly when smoke bombs and even a Molotov cocktail were launched at officers. Many of the activists were carrying Communist symbols and trade union flags.
According to RT, many demonstrators wore hoods and masks, At least one officer had to be hospitalised after burn injuries to his leg, according to the regional newspaper Ouest-France.
French media reported earlier that radical activists, including anarchist groups, were traveling to Nantes from across the country to take part in the protest. Cafes and shops were vandalised leaving several with broken windows and tagged walls. Monuments were also spray-painted.
Public transport into the city through the main streets was suspended on Saturday afternoon, as shop owners were busy covering shop windows and barricading doors. A police contingent of several units bussed in as reinforcements from neighboring regions were present.
Activists carried placcards reading “No to Le Pen” and “No fascists in our neighborhood,” though there were also cries of “Justice for Theo,” mimicking recent riots in Paris that followed the alleged brutal treatment of a black drug dealer named Theo.
“We are here to tell Marine Le Pen that she is not welcome at all in the West and Nantes in particular. We are a country of solidarity and social progress, and we do not want the lies of Marine Le Pen,” said Anthony Lemaire of the CGT union.
As the crowd chanted “Everybody hates the police!” hooded youths began engaging the riot squad leading to running battles and skirmishes with officers.
The National Front called the attempts to derail Marine Le Pen’s rally ahead of the April presidential election, an attack on free speech, and welcomed a firm police response.
“As usual the far-left fascist rabble rampages and burns. We will soon arrive to restore order to France!” said FN Vice President Florian Philipot.