Europe

'Black vest' protesters storm Panthéon in Paris

Undocumented migrants are surrounded by police after having occupied the Panthéon in Paris, 12 July 2019 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Undocumented migrants are surrounded by police during the protest

Hundreds of undocumented migrants have stormed the Panthéon in Paris and demanded the right to remain in France.

The protesters, who were mainly from West Africa, surged into the building at around midday (11:00 GMT) on Friday.

Tourists were evacuated from the mausoleum, where many of France's most famous figures are buried.

The group called themselves the "black vests" - a reference to the yellow vest protest movement that spread through much of France earlier this year.

They waved papers in the air, chanted, and demanded to hold talks with Prime Minister Édouard Philippe over their immigration status.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The demonstrators held waved papers and chanted as they demanded the right to stay in the country
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Pantheon monument is a grand neoclassical building in the centre of Paris

In a statement, the protest group described themselves as "the undocumented, the voiceless and the faceless of the French Republic".

"We don't want to negotiate with the interior minister and his officials any more, we want to talk to Prime Minister Édouard Philippe now!" it said.

Between 200 and 300 migrants took part in the protest, a police spokesman told Reuters news agency. There were 37 arrests made.

But other estimates - from activist groups and witnesses - said as many as 700 people were involved in the demonstration.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Hundreds of mainly West African migrants took part in the protest
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Some of the demonstrators suffered minor injuries

The protesters remained in the Panthéon, a grand neoclassical building in the centre of the city, for several hours before they were evacuated by police.

Writers Émile Zola, Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, and scientist Marie Curie, are among those buried in the building.

"All of the people who gained entry to the Panthéon have been evacuated," Prime Minister Philippe said on Twitter. "France is a country based on the rule of law which means... respect for public monuments and for the memory they represent,"

Earlier on Friday, dozens of riot police were pictured barricading the site to prevent people from entering while the protest was taking place.

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