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article imageFrench prison guards vow to continue strike after govt talks

By Ambre TOSUNOGLU (AFP)     Jan 22, 2018 in World

A strike by French prison guards entered its second week on Monday, with union officials vowing to continue the movement after holding talks with the government over demands for better security and pay after a series of attacks on staff by inmates.

The protests, which have disrupted prisons across the country, began after a convicted Al-Qaeda extremist attacked guards in a high-security facility with a razor blade, injuring three of them.

On Monday, around 150 guards continued to block access to the Fleury-Merogis prison south of Paris -- Europe's biggest -- with tyres and pallets.

Last week, police clashed with the guards, using tear gas and baton charges to clear a path through the barricades.

Between 120 and 130 of the 188 prisons nationwide had been affected by the strike actions on Monday, with access completely blocked at some of them, said UFAP-UNSA, the largest union among prison guards.

Justice minister Nicole Belloubet said after a meeting with union leaders that talks would continue Tuesday on creating more guard jobs, security fears and pay.

A fire lit by striking prison guards burns outside the Longuenesse prison in northern France on Mond...
A fire lit by striking prison guards burns outside the Longuenesse prison in northern France on Monday
PHILIPPE HUGUEN, AFP

The government had already said Saturday that 1,100 new jobs would be created over the next four years, and that it would create a special regime that allows for a "total lockdown" on the most dangerous detainees, measures dismissed by the guards as insufficient.

"It's already a considerable effort," Belloubet said Monday, adding that she was "not sure of being able to do much more".

- Radicalisation risks -

"Suspending the movement is out of the question," said Jean-Francois Forget of UFAP-UNSA.

French prison guards have long complained of low pay, insufficient staffing and overcrowding.

And lately the country's prisons have developed a reputation for being hotbeds of radical Islam that have turned out some of the jihadists behind a series of bloody attacks in the past three years.

French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet said talks would continue over the strikes by French prison...
French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet said talks would continue over the strikes by French prison guards
Thomas SAMSON, AFP

Guards complain that the conditions in which violent and radicalised inmates are held are too lenient.

Last week, three inmates at a prison on the island of Corsica, one of whom was under surveillance for Islamic radicalisation, attacked two guards with a knife, wounding one of them seriously.

In the northern Calais region, a male and a female guard were treated in hospital for injuries on Sunday after being attacked by a prisoner with an iron table leg.

- Mattresses on floors -

Riot police clash try to move prison guards protesting at Borgo prison on the island of Corsica on M...
Riot police clash try to move prison guards protesting at Borgo prison on the island of Corsica on Monday
PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA, AFP

The average occupancy rate in French prisons is 118 percent, but at some prisons such as Fresnes near Paris it has risen to around 200 percent, forcing some prisoners to bed down on mattresses on the floor.

Adding to the guards' concerns is the radicalisation of inmates who come under the sway of Islamic extremists.

Of the roughly 70,000 prisoners held in French jails in December, 504 were convicted or awaiting trial on terrorism charges and some 1,200 others were under surveillance for radicalisation.

The tipping point for many guards came when German convict Christian Ganczarski, a former top Al-Qaeda militant, attacked three officers with scissors and a razor blade.

President Emmanuel Macron has called the overcrowding in prisons "disgraceful".

He has vowed to create places for an additional 15,000 inmates and switch to a "massive" use of alternatives to incarceration, such as community service or freeing prisoners fitted with an electronic bracelet.

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