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French cabbies disrupt traffic to protest against Uber

French taxi drivers have brought traffic to a standstill in sometimes violent protests against Uber. Taxi drivers in France and other European countries have complained that Uber is unfairly hurting their livelihoods.

Traffic in parts of Paris and a number of other French cities ground to a halt on Thursday as taxi drivers held nation-wide protests against UberPop, an app that allows customers to hire rides with people operating their private cars - at prices far below the cost of a conventional cab.

Taxi drivers refused to provide service to passengers at major airports and train stations, blocking major thoroughfares, such as the ring road around Paris - and even torching cars. Among the other targets disrupted by the striking cabbies were the airport and main train station in the southern port of Marseille.

The American popular musician Courtney Love, who apparently was trying to leave one of Paris' airports, complained via the micro-blogging website Twitter that the vehicle she had been traveling in had been "ambushed" by protesters who were "holding our driver hostage." In another of a series of tweets, she claimed that she was "safer in Baghdad."

The AFP news agency cited a private chauffeur who said he did not work for Uber or "any other app," who said that he had been dragged from his cab by angry taxi drivers when he was stopped by a blockade they had set up on a motorway in the west of Paris. He said they had slashed his tires and smashed a window, before slashing his vehicle and another van on fire.

Police eventually used tear gas to break up that protest.

Uber has been operating in Paris since 2011 and claims to have 400,000 customers per month in France. That's despite a French law that came into force in January banning any service that connects passengers with unlicensed drivers. Noting that it has filed a legal challenge against the law and that a final verdict is not expected before September, Uber recently announced plans to expand into three more French cities.

Clamp down ordered

Prior to the protests, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve had sought to calm the situations, saying he had ordered police and prosecutors to clamp down on the low-cost UberPop. The ban does not apply to the separate licensed-chauffeur service called UberX.

Taxi drivers complain that UberPop drivers are can undercut them due to much lower costs as they are not subject to the 250 hours of mandatory training that cabbies have to undergo to get their licenses, nor are they required to carry the same insurance. This has prompted some government officials to express concerns about the safety of passengers using the service.

Taxi drivers in other European countries have also held protests against Uber, and the service has been banned in Germany.

pfd/jil (AP, AFP, dpa)

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