Occupy the Champs Elysees? Non, merci!

Tue Nov 1, 2011 11:16am EDT
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By Lionel Laurent

PARIS (Reuters) - Hordes of seething protesters, tents of rage and clashes with the police have become regular sights in New York, London, Madrid and Rome. But over in Paris, despite a history of revolution, the French just aren't taking the bait.

Although activists in Paris are hoping to rekindle the spark this Friday in time for the G20 summit in Cannes, French attempts at launching movements akin to the "Indignados" in Spain or anti-banker "Occupy" sit-ins across the Channel and the Atlantic -- which have galvanised hundreds of thousands of supporters -- have so far fallen flat.

In May an estimated 1,000 people gathered in Paris' Place de la Bastille, a symbolic location after the fall of the hated Bastille prison to revolutionaries in 1789, but police cleared them out. Subsequent marches were in the hundreds of people but failed to take root, with the holiday season putting the brakes on anger.

Student leaders are now pinning their hopes on a new bid to "Occupy La Defense" - the business district west of Paris that houses the headquarters of French bank Societe Generale, among others - on Friday. But they admit that rabble-rousing is a tough business these days, even with the G20 landing in Cannes.

"We don't know how it's going to go...We're hoping it will take off but we just don't know," said Baki Youssoufou, a 30-year-old Sorbonne graduate who heads a student union taking part in the event. "Will we see the same numbers that we saw in Madrid or in New York? I don't think so. We'll need a few more weeks for that."

What has happened to the nation that produced the era-defining lockdown of May 1968, or the 1995 strikes that successfully fought off pension reform? Not a lot, some say, which is precisely the point.

Whereas Londoners can join the dots between banker bailouts and swinging cuts to public services, and Madrid-dwellers can balk at their country's record unemployment of 5 million people, the French aren't being made to eat cake just yet.

Despite a stuttering economy and high levels of public debt, French households are still solvent, the generous social security safety net is still paying out and the jobless rate, though still high, has come down since its 2009 recession peak.   Continued...

<p>Tourists protect themselves from the rain under umbrellas in front of the Eiffel tower as they visit the French capital during summer holidays in Paris July 19, 2011. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard</p>