French police clash with prison guards in protest over jail conditions

PARIS (Reuters) - French riot police clashed on Friday with striking prison guards who accuse the government of doing little to counter spiraling violence and Islamist activism inside the country's overcrowded jails.

The scuffles outside Fleury Merogis prison, one of Europe's largest with 3,800 inmates, coincided with news from a jail in Corsica that two security guards were attacked and injured by inmates. It is the latest in a series of assaults that have overshadowed France's prison system in the past week.

"We're fed up. We're taking a thumping inside and now we're being thumped outside," jail guard Thibault Capelle said after police advancing with shields and using tear gas broke up a picket at the entrance of Fleury Merogis, on the southern outskirts of Paris.

The protests there and at many other prisons began a week ago, after an Islamist militant jailed over the killing of 21 people in Tunisia in 2000 slashed guards on the head and torso with a pair of scissors in northern France.

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French police clash with prison guards in protest over jail conditions
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French police clash with prison guards in protest over jail conditions
Wooden palettes burn as prison guards block access to Fresnes prison on January 19, 2018 to demand tighter security. French prison officers blocked access to several jails around the country on January 15. Two prison guards have been injured by a detainee on January 19, 2018 at the of Borgo prison in Corsica. The two guards, of whom one was more seriously injured than the other, were transferred to the Bastia hospital, the prosecutor added. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Jail workers block the gate at Fleury-Merogis prison, the largest prison in Europe, located in Fleury-Merogis near Paris, France on January 18, 2018 after multiple agressions in prison by inmates turn into clashes with anti-riot police force. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
CRS anti-riot police guards blocking access to Fresnes prison on January 19, 2018 to demand tighter security after three officers were injured in an attack by a German terror convict last week. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Wooden palettes burn as prison guards block access to Fresnes prison on January 19, 2018 to demand tighter security. French prison officers blocked access to several jails around the country on January 15. Two prison guards have been injured by a detainee on January 19, 2018 at the of Borgo prison in Corsica. The two guards, of whom one was more seriously injured than the other, were transferred to the Bastia hospital, the prosecutor added. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Jail workers block the gate at Fleury-Merogis prison, the largest prison in Europe, located in Fleury-Merogis near Paris, France on January 18, 2018 after multiple agressions in prison by inmates turn into clashes with anti-riot police force. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
CRS anti-riot police guards blocking access to Fresnes prison on January 19, 2018 to demand tighter security after three officers were injured in an attack by a German terror convict last week. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Wooden palettes burn as prison guards block access to Fresnes prison on January 19, 2018 to demand tighter security. French prison officers blocked access to several jails around the country on January 15. Two prison guards have been injured by a detainee on January 19, 2018 at the of Borgo prison in Corsica. The two guards, of whom one was more seriously injured than the other, were transferred to the Bastia hospital, the prosecutor added. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Fire Fighters try to remove a fire of wooden palettes burn as prison guards block access to Fresnes prison on January 19, 2018 to demand tighter security. French prison officers blocked access to several jails around the country on January 15. Two prison guards have been injured by a detainee on January 19, 2018 at the of Borgo prison in Corsica. The two guards, of whom one was more seriously injured than the other, were transferred to the Bastia hospital, the prosecutor added. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Block access to Fresnes prison on January 19, 2018 to demand tighter security after three officers were injured in an attack by a German terror convict last week. Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Wooden palettes burn as prison guards block access to Fresnes prison on January 19, 2018 to demand tighter security. French prison officers blocked access to several jails around the country on January 15. Two prison guards have been injured by a detainee on January 19, 2018 at the of Borgo prison in Corsica. The two guards, of whom one was more seriously injured than the other, were transferred to the Bastia hospital, the prosecutor added. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A view of Fleury Merogis Prison near Paris on 19 January 2018. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Block access to Fresnes prison on January 19, 2018 to demand tighter security after three officers were injured in an attack by a German terror convict last week. Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
CRS anti-riot police guards blocking access to Fresnes prison on January 19, 2018 to demand tighter security after three officers were injured in an attack by a German terror convict last week. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Block access to Fresnes prison on January 19, 2018 to demand tighter security after three officers were injured in an attack by a German terror convict last week. Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Jail workers breaking the strike at Fleury-Merogis prison, the largest prison in Europe, located in Fleury-Merogis near Paris, France on January 18, 2018 after multiple agressions in prison by inmates. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A view of Fleury Merogis Prison near Paris on 19 January 2018. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Jail workers block the gate at Fleury-Merogis prison, the largest prison in Europe, located in Fleury-Merogis near Paris, France on January 18, 2018 after multiple agressions in prison by inmates turn into clashes with anti-riot police force. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Jail workers block the gate at Fleury-Merogis prison, the largest prison in Europe, located in Fleury-Merogis near Paris, France on January 18, 2018 after multiple agressions in prison by inmates turn into clashes with anti-riot police force. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Jail workers block the gate at Fleury-Merogis prison, the largest prison in Europe, located in Fleury-Merogis near Paris, France on January 18, 2018 after multiple agressions in prison by inmates turn into clashes with anti-riot police force. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Jail workers block the gate at Fleury-Merogis prison, the largest prison in Europe, located in Fleury-Merogis near Paris, France on January 18, 2018 after multiple agressions in prison by inmates turn into clashes with anti-riot police force. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Prison guards burn wooden palettes as they block access to the Nanterre prison on January 18, 2018 in Nanterre, to demand tighter security after three officers were injured in an attack by a German terror convict. French prison officers blocked access to several jails around the country on January 15. The officers' unions say the blade attack by Christian Ganczarski, who is serving an 18-year sentence over the 2002 bombing of a Tunisian synagogue, illustrated the lax approach of prison authorities to violent convicts. / AFP PHOTO / Philippe LOPEZ (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A view of Fleury Merogis Prison near Paris on 19 January 2018. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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With pressure mounting, President Emmanuel Macron said last week a plan would be presented in February to tackle the issue. It would go beyond an existing promise to build thousands of new prison cells, he said.

France's prison population has more than doubled since the 1970s, to around 70,000, making it one of the highest in Europe.

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The incident in Corsica prompted rapid publication of a statement of sympathy by Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet, who was accused of responding sluggishly to earlier assaults.

Maxime Coustie, representative of staff at Corsica's Borgo jail, said several inmates struck one guard in the back with a sharp instrument and another in the face. Both were hospitalized.

One of the assailants had attracted the attention of prison authorities after beginning to practise a more extreme form of Islam.

Radicalization among petty criminals is a growing concern in France after Islamist attacks that have killed close to 250 people in Paris and other cities over the past three years.

In addition to more staff and resources, prison guards want the country's 504 convicted Islamist militants isolated from other prisoners, said Wilfried Fonck, a jailguard unionist.

Fleury Merogis, a sprawl of gloomy gray concrete dating to the 1960s, houses far more prisoners that it was built to take, making it a frequent target of international criticism.

It is also the solitary-confinement home of Salah Abdeslam, suspected of being the sole survivor of an Islamist hit-squad that killed 130 people in Paris in late 2015.

(Reporting By Brian Love; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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