PARIS French police detained scores of climate change protesters after violent clashes on the Place de la Republique in central Paris on Sunday, a day before the official start of an international conference that aims to tackle global warming.
France, host of a conference that will bring together more than 150 heads of state and government, has banned public protests, including a planned march in Paris on Sunday, after deadly attacks in the capital by Islamist militants on Nov. 13 prompted authorities to impose a state of emergency.
The statue on the Place de la Republique has become a makeshift shrine to the 130 people killed in those attacks, with Parisians and others placing flowers, candles and messages there.
But on Sunday it resembled at times a battleground as riot police used tear gas to disperse about 200 protesters, some of them masked, who responded by hurling rocks and even candles at them.
French President Francois Hollande accused the violent protesters of dishonoring the memory of the dead.
"It's doubly regrettable, I was even going to say scandalous," Hollande told reporters in Brussels, where he was attending a European Union-Turkey summit.
"Place de la Republique, where all these flowers have been put, these candles ... in memory of those who fell under the bullets of the terrorists. (It is) also scandalous with regard to what is at stake at the climate conference, which is meant to let the world make decisions on the future of the planet."
His indignation was echoed in the Twittersphere.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said police had detained 174 people over the clashes but added they were a small minority bent on making trouble. He said other climate change-related events including a human chain involving thousands of people in Paris earlier on Sunday had passed peacefully.
Cazeneuve defended the ban on marches and rallies in view of what he said was an ongoing terrorist threat to France, and he vowed to respond firmly to any further challenges to public order in coming days.
Using the state of emergency rules, police have put 26 green activists under house arrest ahead of the summit saying they were suspected of planning violent protests.
The U.N. climate change summit is taking place at Le Bourget just outside Paris. Initial talks among negotiators kicked off on Sunday, as hundreds of thousands of people joined rallies and demonstrations worldwide to pressure their leaders for an ambitious deal for the sake of the planet.
(Reporting by Eric Gaillard and Simon Carraud; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Hugh Lawson)