Guards block French prisons as assault protest enters week 2
By ELAINE GANLEY
Jan. 22, 2018
PARIS (AP) — Protesting guards blocked dozens of France's 188 prisons Monday as a conflict triggered by inmate attacks entered its second week. Two new assaults over the weekend fanned the fervor.
About 100 guards protested in front of the Marseille prison, setting a small fire and blocking the entrances until riot police moved them out, some forcibly.
At Europe's largest prison, Fleury-Merogis, south of Paris, about 50 guards blocked the entrance for several hours.
As of Monday afternoon, police officers were called in to work at seven of the 13 prisons where guards refused to take up their posts, France's Prison Administration said. Blockades prevented guards from entering 10 other prisons, the corrections agency said.
Union officials claimed the protests affected at least 115 prisons to varying degrees. The actions lasted a matter of hours at some locations, making it difficult to gauge if the guards' movement was gaining momentum.
However, the decision by Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet to take part in talks with union officials Monday made clear that authorities considered the situation potentially explosive.
No agreement was reached Monday, but both sides agreed to meet again on Tuesday. Improved security, the addition of 1,100 new positions over four years and indemnities are among the topics to be discussed.
"I want concrete results ... very quickly," Belloubet told reporters.
Thibault Capelle, head of the Workers' Force union at Fleury-Merogis prison, said ahead of the meeting that guards were determined to improve their working conditions.
"It's out of the question that we give up," he said in an interview on the prison grounds.
"Little reforms" and "stopgap" measures were unacceptable solutions to problems that have endured for decades, be it insufficient staff or lack of proper security, Capelle said.
"It's anger, determination, it's in the guts," he said. "It's exactly everything we've been saying for years and years and years ... It's my colleagues that I see get knifed, go to the psychologist because they've been attacked."
Attacks in about a half-dozen prisons — including by Muslim inmates who are suspected of being radicalized — have fueled guards' demands for improved working conditions.
A prisoner assaulted a guard with a chair on Sunday at the prison in Chateauroux, south of Paris, allegedly shouting "Allahu akbar," Arabic for "God is great," the Prison Administration confirmed. The inmate was armed with a homemade weapon and wasn't known for extremist views, it said.
At Longuenesse prison in the northern Pas de Calais region on Sunday, two guards were injured by a prisoner who attacked them with a table leg, the Prison Administration said.
There are some 4,000 aggressions against guards per year, according to the administration.
A Jan. 11 attack by a high-profile prisoner who had been identified for radicalization set the protests in motion. Christian Ganczarski, a German who converted to Islam, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his involvement in a 2002 attack on a synagogue in Tunisia that left 21 people dead.
He is suspected by the United States of providing critical support to Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Alex Turnbull and Nicolas Garriga contributed from Fleury-Merogis prison.