Britons have been warned: Stay away from riot-torn Paris.
The Foreign Office says the French capital—which has been rocked by violent demos—is too dangerous.
Protests against a new employment law have erupted into riots, with fierce fighting in the shadow of famous tourist spots like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral.
Cars have been set alight, shops looted and gangs of youths and masked men swinging baseball bats and wooden planks have had running battles with riot police who have used water cannon and tear gas.
The Foreign Office alert is a huge blow to France, which has always considered itself a haven of fashion chic and culture.
Pictures flashed around the world show a new Paris racked with class division. That was illustrated yesterday by photographs of an elegant woman in high heels set upon by youths in the trendy Esplanade des Invalides.
They harried the defenceless woman like a pack of wolves, oblivious to watching police and photographers. One ripped her handbag away while another rifled through her pockets.
Some hotels around the famous Left Bank of the River Seine—usually full of romantic couples strolling hand in hand—have boarded up their windows up as armoured vehicles with water cannons patrol the streets.
Paris’s mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, called the situation “explosive” and added: “The government’s obstinacy is creating an extremely dangerous situation that is sinking into further violence and further danger.”
French President Jacques Chirac, in Brussels at an EU summit meeting, called the violence “intolerable and unacceptable” and ordered authorities to punish troublemakers “with all necessary severity”.
The violence—which has spread to other cities—has led to more than 1,400 arrests and more than 450 cops being injured.
It follows anger over the government’s First Jobs Contract (CPE), which will let bosses sack workers under 26 without warning.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said many of the rioters were the same ones—from poor suburbs with high unemployment—who brought chaos to the streets during three weeks of violence last year.
He added: “There were hoodlums who are the same as the rioters of November. Clearly some people are using these events to vandalise and attack.”
Union leaders had talks with French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, but failed to get him to withdraw the CPE.
They warned him that protests would continue unless it was dropped—and said a general strike would be held on Tuesday.
The CPE is aimed at reducing high youth unemployment by giving bosses more flexibility and fighting France’s high youth jobless rate, which has reached 50 per cent in the riot-hit suburbs.