Communists, rock musicians and a renegade Roman Catholic bishop led protests Saturday against the government for convening a "summit of the rich" on the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.
About 6,000 demonstrators crowded into the Place de la Bastille and marched through the city center despite heavy rain to denounce what organizers called Socialist President Francois Mitterrand's provocative decision to play host to next week's Paris "G-7 Summit" of the West's seven major industrialized powers.Protesters carried placards saying a focus on Third World problems, the apartheid system of racial discrimination in South Africa and colonialism would have been more appropriate.
The powerful Communist Party at the last minute threw its weight behind the "counter-bicentennial" protests that were organized against what the demonstrators called the "summit of the rich nations."
Organizers included Monsignor Jacques Gaillot, a liberal Roman Catholic bishop who recently enraged his colleagues by speaking out in favor of condoms; Renaud, a popular long-haired French rock singer; and the tiny far-left Revolutionary Communist League.
Renaud was to be one of the main attractions at a huge "counter-summit" rock concert being held at the Place de la Bastille Saturday evening.
The communist-led Confederation Generale du Travail labor union added muscle to the protests by announcing its members will stage a strike in the Paris Metro on Friday, July 14.
A strike would mean chaos for the thousands of foreign tourists expected to flood Paris for a glimpse of the grandiose celebrations the government has planned to mark the anniversary of the Revolution.
Highways out of the capital were packed with cars Saturday as many Parisians left early for their traditional long summer vacations rather than have their routines disrupted by the summit and bicentennial celebrations. The massive events were expected to paralyze the city as major sections were to be closed to traffic and parking.
Political experts said the prospect of the protests and popular discontent with the expensive celebrations have annoyed Mitterrand and his party, who pride themselves on their dedication to the problems of developing nations.
Mitterrand and Socialist Prime Minister Michel Rocard's government have spearheaded efforts among industrialized nations to ease Third World financial woes by canceling debt.