French taxi drivers have pulled out the throttle in an all-out confrontation with the ultra-cheap Uber car service, smashing cars, setting tyres ablaze and blocking traffic during a nationwide strike.
Tourists and celebrities were caught in the mayhem, and some, including singer Courtney Love, had their cars set upon by striking taxi drivers.
Love, Kurt Cobain’s widow, said she was ambushed while travelling from the airport in Paris, then saved by two men on a motorcycle.
She later posted a selfie of herself wearing a motorcycle helmet with her two smiling rescuers.
The French government was aghast, with Prime Minister Manuel Valls lamenting: “These incidents give a deplorable image to visitors of our country.”
Taxi drivers justified their rage, saying Uber’s lowest-cost service UberPop was ruining their livelihoods.
Despite repeated rulings against it and an October law that explicitly outlaws UberPop, its drivers continue on French roads and the American ride-hailing company is actively recruiting drivers and passengers alike. Uber claims to have a total of 400,000 customers a month in France.
Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve rushed back from a trip to Marseille to meet taxi unions, declaring that UberPop must be shut down and its vehicles seized if caught by police carrying passengers.
He said 70 vehicles had been damaged around France in yesterday’s protests and 10 people were arrested.
Mr Cazeneuve said he would meet UberPop officials to tell them their service is illegal.
“It must, therefore, be closed,” he said. “The government will never accept the law of the jungle.”
He ordered a meeting of French anti-fraud officials on Monday to put in place measures to immediately stop illegal taxis from servicing customers.
Earlier, he ordered an immediate ban on unlicensed drivers in the Paris region.
That did not worry Uber France chief Thibaud Simphal, who said on RTL radio he was telling his drivers “to continue”.
He claimed that so far the justice system “has not demanded that UberPop be forbidden”.
Anger seethed across France, with riot police chasing strikers from Paris’ ring road, where protesters torched tyres and swarmed onto exit ramps during rush hour on the busy artery that leads to Charles de Gaulle airport.
In Toulouse, angry taxi drivers dumped flour onto UberPop cars, tyres were burned in Nantes, and in Lyon roads were blocked.