PARIS (AP) — Protesters throwing planks of wood and Molotov cocktails clashed with Paris police firing tear gas and dispersion grenades Thursday, as unions staged a last-ditch bid to dismantle a labor law that weakens their powers.
While thousands of union activists marched peacefully through the French capital chanting about workers' rights and capitalist abuses, sporadic violence broke out between helmeted riot police and small groups of protesters.
At least four protesters and eight security officers were injured and 16 people arrested, the Paris police department said in a statement. The department estimated there about 13,000 demonstrators in the capital.
Across the country, 169 demonstrations were held, and 15 police officers and gendarmes were wounded, including those in Paris, the Interior ministry said in a statement. Two were seriously injured and taken to hospitals, it said.
The statement said 62 people were arrested on a national level, including 32 who were put into custody.
Reporters for The Associated Press saw one protester with his face covered in blood and several people hit by police grenade pellets. One officer suffered leg burns after protesters tossed bottles containing flammable liquid at a cluster of riot police.
The protest was part of a day of nationwide labor actions against a law adopted this summer that allows employers more freedom to extend workweeks and lay off staff.
A series of strikes and huge protests against the law earlier this year frustrated tourists, stained France's image and reflected poorly on President Francois Hollande's government.
The government hopes the measures will make France more competitive by encouraging hiring and investment. Unions say it damages hard-won worker rights.
Conservative critics, meanwhile, say the changes are too modest to invigorate the French economy, which has lagged behind those of Germany and other European nations over the past few years.
So far, the strikes have caused only minimal disruption to schools, transportation and other public services. The civil aviation authority said 15 percent of flights were cancelled Thursday at Paris-area airports.
In the capital, riot police charged repeatedly at scattered groups, some of whom lit a bonfire in the middle of a street off the plaza at Place de la Republique. Some demonstrators wore masks or scarves to conceal their faces and protect themselves from tear gas and pepper spray.
The protests earlier this year failed to stop the government from abandoning the law, and it was forced through parliament without a vote because of opposition on the left and right.
Now that the law has been adopted, union leaders told demonstrators that they would find other ways to defeat it, such as through lawsuits targeting specific measures.
Alex Turnbull, Christophe Ena and Philippe Sotto in Paris contributed to this report.