November 26, 2007

What a riot, that 'neo-nazi' riot

Saturday afternoon was almost filled with unexpected excitement as we walked into a protest in the middle of Paris. The middle in this case being Odeon, in the six arrondissement. Strolling along Blvd St Germaine after a late lunch, we noticed 2 lines of Police riot vehicles double parked in the road. Out of the backs of these vans, dozens of policemen in full riot gear came streaming out. What's going on??

We watched the riot police click on their riot helmets and lower their visors and then a group of them jogged towards the medical school just beyond the Square at Odeon and split up into sub-groups, re-directing traffic and securing the intersection. Another group jogged onto the square and secured the metro exits, and a third group secured the intersection near the police vans. It was heart-rate elevating stuff this, only I still couldn't tell who they were securing the area against?

And then we saw them... a motley crew of protesters (maybe 20 in total), clustered around the bus stop on the square with a banner or two, a placard or two and scarves on their faces against teargas. Wow. Who ARE they? What are they protesting against? Will there be tear gas and shouting?

I heard an American tell his tourist friends:
Those are neo-nazis.

What does that mean? They hate jews?
asked one of his friends.

They hate everyone!
came the sage reply.
Jews, Africans, immigrants...they are usually lower class and not very well educated people.

But the lonely placard read: Respect the right to study. How is that neo-nazi? Although they did have a weird yellow cross symbol on a flag and they tried their best to look menacing. Anyway, I was waiting for the WITS-style teargas deployment, rock throwing, running and shouting so I took up position in front of the much despised Starbucks (much despised by me, that is) and waited for the action.

But with 500.000 riot police versus 5.5 protesters... not much action was had. After about 20 minutes of milling around, one failed attempt to attach a banner to the bus stop and much traffic re-directing, it looked like it was all over! A very geeky-looking library type approached the head of the riot commando with a broad smile, shook his hand and said:
With that, he turned on his heel and his straggly faux-neo-nazi-protester-buddies followed him to the metro entrance where they all suddenly disappeared underground. And in what must be riot-etiquette around here, the chief of the riot police lifted his helmet off his head and signalled to his men. Within a moment, every one of them had removed their helmet and replaced it with those boat hats they wear. Was this a gesture to appear less threatening to the public? A sort of a "don't worry about the scary-looking ninja turtle outfits - we're harmless! Look at the funny things on our heads - ha, ha, ha!"

So much for the running and shouting. The sunny Saturday afternoon went back to being... just that.

PS Saturday was the first day that the stupid metro strike was really over. So, I'm fine now, thanks for your concern.

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