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What the papers said 20 April 2018

rfi English, Apr 20

Demonstrators in the streets; university blockades; and tensions in Toulouse are just some of the hot topics in the press.

Protests in France continue to grab most of the front pages. Le Monde relays CGT union figures that claim that between 119 500 and 300 000 people took to the streets across France yesterday. Ranging from rail workers, civil servants, posties and students, they all joined forces to contest the policies of President Macron.

However Libération laments the fact that the social movement which has been on and off over the past few weeks is losing its grip. Libé wonders if people have more faith in the government when it comes to reigniting the country's activity, decreasing unemployment and modernising the economy and would therefore prefer not to oppose these general reforms even if the reforms are in fact sacrifices. The paper writes that if this case scenario does take place "Emmanuel Macron will be able to boast that he succeeded where so many of his predecessors had to back down."

L'Humanité is more hopeful and believes everything is building up for May 1 warning that Macron is trying to turn public sector businesses into private ones.

Conservative Le Figaro has given a prominent spot to the student protests with the university blockade on its front page this morning. It says only a minority of students have been on strike and their desire to block universities has been overwhelmingly rejected by other students.

A survey the paper carried out shows that people are divided over whether or not admission into the first year of university should be more selective. 52% are thought to be favourable while 62% of young people are said to be opposed to it.

Once again the idea of using the armed forces to evacuate blocked universities seems to divide French opinion. Two thirds of over 65s are in favour of this but perhaps this is because they are just a bit nostalgic of their own days as university students where fighting with the police, teachers and other students was the norm.

Le Figaro says only a small number of high school students, who are the first concerned with the new measures have physically joined the protest movement. In any case students across France are trying to study for their exams with or without the help of their teachers.

Unrest is also rife in neighbourhoods south west of Toulouse where tensions have been high since Sunday. Le Monde reports that 23 people have been arrested and 60 cars have been torched. The paper tries to make sense of what ignited these clashes with the local police forces. One of the reasons given is the arrest of a Niqab clad woman who refused to show her face to officers and presented them with a photocopy of her ID card.

The woman insulted the officers who then pinned her to the ground. They then dropped tear gas to disperse the 30 odd people who had surrounded them. A 27 year old man has also died while in police custody and rumours are rife in the neighbourhood that he was beaten to death.

Anti-cop sentiment is strong. One officer interviewed seems confident things will calm down saying the area thrives on drug trafficking and for that business to resume, things will have to go back to normal. One Bellefont resident laments the fact that police forces do hassle local youths. 40 percent of them are unemployed. He tells the paper, what is needed is respect and jobs.

And finally, Le Parisien features an article on the record number of inmates in French prisons. Some 70,367 people are currently incarcerated with 21,000 awaiting trial. Prison guards have been protesting about these overcrowded conditions since January. Prison capacity currently stands on average at 118 percent but in institutions where people are serving short terms sentences, it can sometimes reach 143 percent. In the case of Fresnes prison just outside Paris, it's reached 200%.

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