Violent scenes have erupted in Paris after anti-government radicals hijacked a peaceful protest by healthcare workers, causing mayhem and clashing with police.
An estimated 18,000 doctors, nurses and administrative staff took to the streets in the French capital in what began as a peaceful demonstration, calling for more investment in the healthcare system.
But things turned ugly in front of the Les Invalides complex when a large group of young people clad in black clothing and masks began pelting projectiles at police.
Some of the group could be heard chanting “everybody hates the police” and a car was set alight, while several other vehicles were also overturned.
A police source sold AFP that between 250 and 300 anti-government “radicals” had infiltrated the protest.
“Violent groups are trying to escalate tensions at the peaceful demonstration held by healthcare workers,” police headquarters in Paris tweeted.
Thirty-two people had been arrested, according to police. A number of officers were also injured in the clashes.
“They have hijacked this protest by force,” Patrick Pelloux, the head of the Association of Emergency Doctors in France (AMUF) told BFM television, adding that he was “disgusted.”
A nurse was in tears as she addressed violent protesters, saying, “You have ruined our protest.”
Healthcare workers have long complained about low salaries and insufficient staff at French hospitals, leading to a series of strikes over the past year to demand funding increases.
Demands for a greater investment in the hospital system have intensified in recent months as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.
There were also clashes between the police and demonstrators in the northern city of Lille, in Nantes and Toulouse in southern France.
The French healthcare system has been under severe pressure due to COVID-19, although officials say it has largely withstood the challenge.
But many healthcare workers have insisted that the nightly rounds of applause for caregivers treating COVID-19 patients would ring hollow if the government did not back up the public recognition of their work with additional resources.
“We were portrayed as superheroes because we worked overtime and protected our patients without enough equipment,” said a nurse, Latifa, who works at a hospital in southern city Grenoble.
“We were promised hirings and funding but we haven’t seen any of it.”
The 50-year-old said she earns just 1565 euros ($A2565) a month.
“Every day I had a knot in my stomach from the fear of bringing the virus home,” said home carer Amelie Membanda, who has a three-year-old boy and also works in Grenoble.
Another worker, Membanda, who earns around 1100 euros a month ($A1800) said, “We were there for our patients, even without masks, gloves or other protective gear. For the elderly who no longer had any visitors or had no family, we were everything.”
In Paris, Philippe Martinez, who heads the powerful CGT union, struck a combative tone.
“We are waiting for a revaluation of salaries and for qualifications to be recognised,” he said.
Health Minister Olivier Veran on Monday said work was on to review the salaries of health workers and added that the government would have the inputs by the start of July.