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French police clash with migrants in Calais

Fighting and attempts to break into trucks heading for Britain are regular problems for Calais police
Police officer watches migrants who wait on road near port of Calais, northern France, in August (AFP)

Police fired tear gas and three officers were injured near the French port of Calais on Saturday in clashes with migrants who took advantage of a traffic jam to sneak on to trucks, authorities said.

Calais is a magnet for people aiming to reach Britain, a short distance across the Channel.

"Our British colleagues had opened only nine out of 14 lanes this weekend though we expected 9,000 vehicles in the Eurotunnel and 7,500 at the port," local deputy police chief Jean-Philippe Vennin told AFP.

He said the lane shortages considerably slowed down traffic on the main A16 motorway and about 50 migrants "took advantage of the bottleneck to board a few trucks".

An AFP correspondent on the scene said there were about 60 migrants waiting near the motorway.

Police engaged "in a game of cat and mouse" and used tear gas to disperse the migrants, Vennin said.

Three officers were injured in the clashes, a union source said, but gave no information on whether any migrants suffered injuries.

Migrants who successfully climbed onto a truck were then chased away by the driver after being alerted by nearby motorists, the source added. 

The A16 motorway is the principal artery for freight and passengers heading for Britain either via the Channel Tunnel or the Calais port.

French authorities shut down the notorious "Jungle" camp there last October, which at its height was home to about 10,000 people living in dire conditions.

Springboard for migrants

Despite the camp's closure, the French town remains a springboard for migrants trying to reach Britain by stowing away on lorries heading into the Channel Tunnel.

Fighting and attempts to break into trucks heading for Britain are regular problems for the police there.

Last month, about 200 migrants armed with sticks and iron bars clashed in mass brawls near Calais, Sky News reported.

Twenty-one migrants and six riot police officers were hurt in the fights, Sky said.

About 150 were involved in the last brawl, which began on the A16 road leading out of the centre of Calais and moved on to a highway, Sky said, citing the Pas-de-Calais prefecture.

Authorities said the majority of those involved were Afghans and Eritreans, according to Sky.