NEW: President Francois Hollande expresses sympathy with protesters' "exasperation"
Some taxi drivers vow to continue protests that prevented road access to Paris airports
U.S. singer Courtney Love says her car was "ambushed" and beaten with metal bats
The French government has ordered police to crack down on Uber in Paris after violence erupted at demonstrations by taxi drivers against the online ride service.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Thursday that he asked the Paris police authority to issue a decree forbidding activity by UberPOP drivers. Similar decrees have already been issued in other major French cities.
Cazeneuve said vehicles using UberPOP will now “be systematically seized” by police when caught operating.
The UberPOP app was ruled illegal by the French government last year, but the U.S. company hasn’t yet exhausted all legal recourse and has told its drivers to keep operating.
Responding to Cazeneuve’s comments Thursday, Uber said it was “still assessing on which legal ground such measures could be implemented.”
Uber said that it is up to the courts to decide what is legal and that no court has so far told it to stop operating.
Angry over Uber’s incursion into their industry, taxi drivers held protests around Paris on Thursday that disrupted traffic near airports, major rail stations and key intersections, ensnaring American rock singer Courtney Love in the chaos.
“They’ve ambushed our car and are holding our driver hostage,” Love tweeted. “They’re beating the cars with metal bats. This is France?? I’m safer in Baghdad.”
Love, who said her car had been attacked after leaving the airport, later tweeted that she had “got out after being held hostage for an hour” thanks to two motorcycle riders.
And she angrily called on Hollande to act, asking, “Is it legal for your people to attack visitors?”
At Gare du Nord, when British business travelers Hardy Blechman and David Keogh arrived for their flight, their Uber car came with a baseball bat.
“Our first driver sped away as taxi drivers approached us loading his cab. Our second driver agreed to meet us in a back street near Gare du Nord and passed David a baseball bat to hold,” Blechman said
“Passengers aren’t the target, but I would be extremely scared if I was an Uber driver.”
French President Francois Hollande said Friday that the violence that flared amid the demonstrations was “unacceptable.” But he also expressed sympathy for the emotions fueling the protests.
President: Violence is ‘unacceptable’
“You can understand that there are demonstrations,” Hollande told reporters in Brussels, Belgium, early Friday. “You can understand that there’s exasperation because it’s already been going on for months and the court decisions are slow to come.”
UberPOP, which operates in more than a dozen cities across Europe, gives passengers a cheaper alternative to traditional taxis by letting private drivers offer rides.
But the fact that those drivers aren’t licensed doesn’t sit well with established taxi firms and local officials.
Hollande said Friday that UberPOP “doesn’t respect any laws” and should be dissolved.
Uber: Small minority are protesting
Video footage from Paris showed riot police on the streets Thursday, as well as tires set on fire and vehicles apparently overturned.
Uber estimated that the number was smaller.
“There’s 50,000 taxis in France, only roughly 1,000 are demonstrating today and the violence is just unacceptable,” Uber spokesman Thomas Meister told CNN. “We’re talking about a small minority, totally reluctant to (accept) any sort of change.”
By Thursday night, taxi drivers had gathered at Porte Maillot near the Champs Elysees.
“We are tired of this situation,” said Alain Griset, president of the National Union of Taxi Drivers. “This will go on indefinitely, at least tonight and tomorrow.”
But Arslan Foury, from the FO taxi union, told BFMTV that members of his organization would be offering free rides into Paris for people arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport in an effort to restore the image of taxi drivers after Thursday’s strike.
“There won’t be anything to pay – nothing to pay,” he said. “We will show our solidarity to the French and to the tourists arriving in Paris.”
Didier Hogrel, president of the National Federation of Taxis, called for authorities to ban the UberPOP app, thus preventing users from accessing the service online. “We can’t put a cop behind each citizen using his car,” he said.
But Cazeneuve told BFMTV that an app could only be banned following a court order.
Further French court rulings on UberPOP are still expected.