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French anti-Uber taxi protest ensnares singer Courtney Love

The loudest protest so far against smartphone-era car services involves burning tires, blocked traffic, riot police and an assault on a celebrity taking an Uber ride from the airport.

Taxi drivers demonstrating against Uber in France blocked traffic and set fire to tires on Thursday. Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images

PARIS -- French taxi drivers protesting Uber and similar ride-hailing services got unexpected publicity Thursday when they apparently assaulted a car shuttling high-profile singer Courtney Love.

"They've ambushed our car and are holding our driver hostage. They're beating the cars with metal bats. This is France?? I'm safer in Baghdad," she tweeted to her 1.9 million followers. Her car's tires were slashed, she said, and after an hour being "held hostage," she "paid some guys on motorcycles to sneak us out, got chased by a mob of taxi drivers who threw rocks, passed two police and they did nothing." Love published a photo of a window smeared with egg and took French President François Hollande to task over the incident.

The celebrity drama spotlights a culture clash in France, where workers' jobs are protected and where laws often enforce traditions such as baguette ingredients and a ban on most Sunday shopping. Companies like Uber, whose drivers are flagged down by riders using a smartphone app, represent a more freewheeling capitalist approach. Uber embraces the Silicon Valley "disruption" religion and promises 50,000 new jobs in Europe, but that message doesn't resonate with today's taxi drivers.

Courtney Love posted this photo on Instagram on Thursday of herself with the two people she credits with saving her after the car she was in was ambushed: "We got out after being held hostage for an hour thanks to these two guys." Screenshot by CNET

On Thursday they staged what appeared to be their biggest protest yet in France. The earlier "Operation Escargot" blocked traffic between Paris' two airports and the city center, but the new protest went beyond that with burning tires, an overturned car, a national scope and riot police responding in some areas. About 2,800 taxi drivers participated, according to French newspaper Le Parisien.

French taxi drivers are upset with what they say is unfair competition from services that aren't subject to the same regulatory controls and don't require expensive taxi licenses -- and with Uber's continued operations here despite new legal limits. Uber pays drivers' legal costs if they're caught in the crackdown.

Uber has had a rough time with governments. It's banned in Spain, and the company has also tangled with regulators across the US, Germany, France, the Netherlands, India, Thailand, the UK, China and Korea.

Particularly thorny in France is the UberPop service, Uber's least expensive "ride-sharing" service that encourages anyone to register with Uber to carry passengers. The 2014 "Thévenoud Law" effectively banned Uber operations, but a French appeals court in March cast doubts on the legality of that legislation. Higher up the political hierarchy, the European Commission also could take a stand against the French law. Meanwhile, Uber continues to operate.

UberPop is the least expensive tier of service from Uber.
UberPop is the least expensive tier of service from Uber. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET