France: police clashes with protesters blocking port

French riot police fired tear gas before dawn Tuesday to disperse dozens of protesters blocking a Mediterranean port over new government plans to privatize a troubled state-run ferry operator.

The clashes broke out late Monday in Marseille after union leaders balked at the plans to allow private investment firm Butler Capital Partners to take over the ailing SNCM ferry operator.

"There was no question for me to allow this port to be blocked by irresponsible people, as has happened all too often in the history of Marseille's port," regional government official Christian Fremont said.

Riot police stepped in late Monday and again at around 2300GMT Monday after protesters sought to block a cargo ship from leaving for Corsica.

No union members were injured or taken into custody, labor leaders said. They warned that such protests were likely to intensify in coming days.

"The conflict can only harden when we see the events that we lived through tonight," the AP quoted Bernard Marty, a union official at the Communist-backed CGT union as saying.

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