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France Protests: Police Threaten to Join Protesters, Demand Better Pay and Conditions

The French government is desperately trying to keep its exhausted police force onside following weeks of violent protests demanding economic reforms, improved living standards and the resignation of President Emmanuel Macron.

On Wednesday, French officials met with police trade union leaders to work out a deal to soothe anger in law enforcement ranks regarding overwork, unpaid overtime and difficult working conditions, Le Monde reported.

Related: What Trump got wrong about the riots in France

But some activists are calling on police to walk out on government negotiations, close down police stations and join the “gilets jaunes”—or yellow vest—protesters with whom they have been facing off since November 17.

Negotiations between three unions—Alliance, UNSA-Police and Unity-SGP-FO—and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner on Tuesday failed to reach a settlement.  As talks resumed on Wednesday, France 24 reported that activists were calling on forces across the country to commit to a “slowdown” and only respond to emergencies until the dispute had been settled.

Police have accumulated some 23 million hours of overtime that is yet to be paid. According to The Local France, police union leader Frédéric Lagache explained, “Faced with this irresponsibility [of the government], we are forced to be irresponsible in our actions.”

The Alliance and Unity-SGP-FO unions called for a “black day for the police” on Wednesday. The Alliance is using Twitter and Facebook to rally support for what it calls “Act 1” of the police protests, using the name given to the ongoing demonstrations held by the gilets jaunes. The group has also threatened to hold “Act II” and “Act III” if required.

Unions have already warned the government over a newly proposed budget set to be adopted Thursday, which Alliance said would cut around $70.8 million from the national police budget.

Such a blow would further degrade conditions for police amid their most pressing deployments for years. Denis Jacob, a spokesperson for the Alternative Police union, said the police are already “at breaking point.”

The government is offering a one-off bonus of around $342 to each officer deployed to face the gilets jaunes protests, totaling around $37.7 million. But this may not be enough to placate a force that claims to have been overworked and underpaid for years—unpaid overtime, for example, totals around $313 million nationwide, Le Monde reported.

Secretary of State Laurent Nuñez told the RMC radio station Wednesday he would work on a payment schedule to address the government’s debts, though he warned that the exact details remain under discussion with the unions.

Gilets jaunes France protests Paris police yellow vests Yellow vest protesters clash with police in Paris, on December 15. French officials met with police trade union leaders to work out a deal to soothe anger in law enforcement ranks regarding overwork, unpaid overtime and difficult working conditions. Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images

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