Climate activists clash with French police at Paris bridge

PARIS (Reuters) - French police used riot shields and pepper spray to clear scores of climate activists blocking a bridge over the Seine in Paris on Friday, as the city sweltered under a record-breaking heatwave that many blame on global warming.

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Protesters from Extinction Rebellion, a civil disobedience movement that began in Britain, blocked traffic on the Pont de Sully bridge in the center of the city, the latest surge of climate activism across northern and western Europe.

“We are trying to make people aware of the ecological problems that are a symptom of the system,” said Sophia Karpenko, a French neuroscientist and spokeswoman with Extinction Rebellion.

A police officer at the scene estimated that some 90 protesters had taken part, while Extinction Rebellion put the number at 200. Two people were briefly detained but no arrests were made, protesters said. There were no reports of injuries.

Extinction Rebellion describes itself as a non-violent direct-action group. It has carried out a number of high-profile protests in London, including disrupting road and rail travel as part of its efforts to raise awareness of climate change.

Last week, the group disrupted an advertising industry festival in the French Riviera city of Cannes, staging sit-ins and banner drops to urge executives to focus more of their efforts on the climate crisis.

In March, tens of thousands of climate activists marched through Paris, although their protests were overshadowed by much larger and sometimes violent demonstrations by the Gilets Jaunes, a social movement opposed to President Emmanuel Macron.

Public unease over climate change has increased markedly over the past year following a series of worrying reports from climate scientists about the impact of global warming.

There has also been a higher incidence of extreme weather, including colder winters and warmer summers, that have alarmed citizens, voters and the scientific community. Europe’s current heatwave has seen temperatures hit 45 degrees Celsius (113°F).

In elections to the European Parliament in May, Green parties saw a surge in support in Germany, France and other member states, which many saw as a recognition of the increasing concern among voters about climate-related issues.

Writing by Forrest Crellin, Editing by Luke Baker, William Maclean