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Thousands Protest Growing Air Pollution in French Cities

May 4, 1996

PARIS (AP) _ Roller skaters, bicyclists and pedestrians rallied Saturday in major cities to protest France’s worsening air pollution, blaming the problem on people’s reliance on cars.

Automobiles, buses and trucks create most of the fumes that generate smog and cause health problems in France’s major urban centers. And according to recent reports, air pollution kills at least 350 people a year in Paris alone.

``It’s the fault of people who use their cars too much,″ said Lyne Rossi, one of about 750 cyclists with surgical masks who gathered on Paris’ Place de la Bastille for a two-wheeled protest.

Similar demonstrations Saturday _ loosely organized by Green Party activists under the theme ``Operation Blue Sky″ _ drew hundreds of protesters in cities including Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Metz, Nice, Rouen, and Toulouse.

``You often see cars with just one person inside, even during terrible traffic jams,″ Rossi said. ``That’s crazy.″

Traffic is blamed for 80 percent of the pollution. Last summer, the city issued numerous high-level pollution alerts.

Paris protester Vincent Taravella, 21, pushed a baby carriage containing doll ``breathing″ through a steel tube. Business people, he said, should leave their cars at home and cycle to work.

In France and many other European countries, diesel fuel consumption is considerably higher than in the United States.

Despite France’s strong environmental movement, cars that run on diesel _ about 30 percent cheaper at the pump than cleaner-burning unleaded gasoline _ are more popular than conventional gasoline cars.

The French government says it’s trying to wean drivers off diesel. A proposed new anti-pollution law would offer tax breaks to vehicles powered by electricity or liquefied gas.

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