Europe

Air France workers on trial in shirt-ripping case

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Media captionAir France human resources manager Xavier Broseta was forced to climb over a fence to escape

Fifteen Air France current and former employees have gone on trial almost a year after two company executives had their shirts torn off as a meeting on job cuts descended into chaos.

A hundred protesters broke down a fence and invaded a boardroom, forcing the executives to flee.

Five of the 15 have gone on trial near Paris accused of organised violence and the rest of damaging property.

Protesters outside the court at Bobigny called for the charges to be dismissed.

The trial began amid raucous scenes inside the packed court room.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A rally in support of those on trial was organised by unions outside the Bobigny courthouse on Tuesday

A video clip was played in which a worker can be heard threatening the airline's human resources boss Xavier Broseta: "You've got millions, you're going to pay."

Union activists at the trial cheered as defence lawyer Lilia Mhissen argued against six opposing lawyers representing Air France.

The judge, banging his gavel, warned vociferous supporters of the defendants: "No demonstrations, no protests or I will have the court cleared. This is not a show!"

He was likewise equally strict with prosecution lawyers, ordering them "not to bicker".

Much of the court's time on Tuesday was spent deliberating as to whether union activists were entitled to force their way through the gate of the perimeter fence at the company's headquarters near Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport.

The defence maintained that the gate was normally open, and that securing it on the day of the incident was a "provocation".

How the violence erupted

The 5 October meeting at Air France headquarters in Roissy took place amid a febrile atmosphere over Air France-KLM's plans to restructure a business struggling against stiff competition.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Air France manager Pierre Plissonnier also had his shirt torn in the protest

Almost 3,000 jobs were being cut and pilots' working hours extended in the company, which is 17.6% owned by the French state. The restructuring plan was later shelved.

Around 100 demonstrators broke into the meeting less than an hour after it began.

Xavier Broseta had his shirt torn off and was filmed fleeing over a fence with demonstrators in pursuit. Another manager, Pierre Plissonnier, endured similar humiliation.

'Political trial'

Weeks before Tuesday's trial began, a government minister intervened personally to fire a union member who had been filmed pushing strikers towards the executives.

Vincent Martinez, who is among the 15 defendants on trial, said his sacking had been a political decision and he questioned whether he and his fellow defendants would be judged as citizens or thugs. Amid all the media and political hype, he argued that it was above all a political trial.

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Image caption Demonstrators accused the airline of pursuing workers relentlessly
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ex-human resources vice-president Xavier Broseta (C) and Pierre Plissonnier (L) appeared in court in Bobigny with their lawyer

Members of the left-wing CGT union demonstrating outside the court accuse the airline and government of pursuing employees relentlessly.

A lawyer acting for the airline said that while union freedoms were vital, "nothing excuses violence towards innocent people".

If convicted, the five defendants accused of violence could face jail terms of up to three years.

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