July 2, 2019 / 2:55 PM / 18 days ago

UPDATE 1-Protesters target Amazon in France calling for action on climate change

(Adds response from Amazon, paragraphs 5-6)

By Forrest Crellin

PARIS, July 2 (Reuters) - Several hundred environmental activists protested outside Amazon's headquarters in Paris and at two of its regional distribution centres in France on Tuesday as part of stepped-up climate change demonstrations.

The protest drew support from groups including Friends of the Earth and the "Gilets Jaunes", who have mounted months of demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron.

Some 240 people blocked access to Amazon's main office in Paris, organisers said, with many denouncing the online giant's business practices, saying it wasn't paying its fair share of tax or paying its employees a fair wage.

Around 70 people blockaded a distribution centre in the southern city of Toulouse and another 80 were gathered at a centre near Lille in the north, with workers forced to go home and operations at both warehouses halted, organisers said.

In a statement sent to Reuters, Amazon said it respected the right of protesters to express their opinion, but defended its business practices, saying it paid all the taxes it owed.

"We are very proud of our work environment and of the thousands of employees we have in France," it said. "We invite anyone who wants to come and visit any of our sites and form their own opinion."

The retailer earlier announced the creation of 1,800 new jobs in France as it looks to raise its number of permanent staff to 9,300 by the end of the year.

The demonstrators said they were angered by a report issued last week that showed France was falling behind on its commitments to reduce CO2 emissions and combat climate change.

"We have to be radical with our demands," said Alma Dufour, a Friends of the Earth campaigner. "There are no little steps left to take when it comes to climate change. We want a transformation of the system."

Organisers said the aim was not to have Amazon shut down in France but to cancel its plans for expansion in 2020.

The U.S. online retail giant has expanded rapidly in the French market, prompting domestic rivals to up their game.

But environmental activists say Amazon needs to do more to limit its environmental impact, including changing a policy of destroying unsold non-food items such as clothes, cosmetics and luxury goods.

French Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe called for a ban on the destruction of non-food items last month, saying he hoped it could be brought into effect within four years.

Protests against climate change have expanded across northern and western Europe in recent months, with Swedish teenaged activist Greta Thunberg leading a high-profile campaign in which students have walked out of school on Fridays.

Last Friday, French police used pepper spray to forcibly remove scores of members of the Extinction Rebellion group who were occupying a bridge over the River Seine.

The French government on Monday ordered an inquiry into tactics used against a peaceful protest. (Reporting by Forrest Crellin; Additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Luke Baker and Mark Potter)

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