Paris squatters 'face off' with President Sarkozy

Riot police stand outside the squat on avenue Matignon in Paris, 7 January Image copyright AFP
Image caption Police were keeping visitors out of the squat

French riot police have sealed off an office building opposite the Elysee Palace where squatters are taunting President Nicolas Sarkozy over housing.

A 30-strong group of students and other activists moved into the empty insurance building on the prestigious avenue Matignon late last month.

They are calling for more state housing to be built and rents to be capped.

The group joke that Mr Sarkozy cannot take a shave now without being reminded by the presence of housing problems.

They call themselves Black Thursday (Jeudi Noir) after the day of the week when young French people in need of rented accommodation tend to scan the newspaper small adds.

They are occupying 22 avenue Matignon, a former office of Saint Honore Assurance which now belongs to a company related to Axa, which is said to have been standing empty since 2006.

In October, riot police ejected members of the same group from an equally prime location, the city's place des Vosges.

Rents for students in Paris rose by 4.4% last year, a survey by French student rental website found.

France's property market has been enjoying recent strong growth in contrast to other Western countries.

'Government under surveillance'

The squatters had declared Friday an "open-doors day", inviting people to visit them and promising a news conference at 1000 local time (0900 GMT).

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Members of Black Thursday posed on a balcony for journalists

But just before 1000, about 15 riot police officers cordoned off the avenue Matignon site, preventing a number of Green and other politicians from entering.

The building is eight storeys high, each of them with floorspace pf 527 sq m, according to Le Parisien newspaper.

Mattresses and sleeping bags have been brought in, and the building is still connected to electricity and water.

Le Figaro newspaper notes that the top floor looks directly on to the Elysee Palace and the Ferris wheel on the place de la Concorde.

"Black Thursday are placing the government under surveillance," the group quips on its website.

The group's aim, it says, is to "denounce the government's indifference to a housing crisis which is sharpening as the property bubble swells".

The previous stand-off, at a private mansion on place des Vosges, dragged on for about a year.

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