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Hundreds held in France over failed ‘coup d’état’

Hundreds of anti-government protesters were arrested in Paris on Tuesday after they tried to enlist the help of the parading French military to overthrow the politicians in power. But President François Hollande survived the attempted coup pretty comfortably.

Hundreds held in France over failed 'coup d'état'
Hundreds were arrested outside the National Assembly in Paris. Photo: Elliot Brown
It sounds like something that would happen in the Paris of 1851 rather than 2015.
 
On Tuesday July 14th, as France was celebrating its national Day, police arrested around 300 people as they tried to overthrow the government, albeit in a fairly halfhearted coup d'état.
 
The group, which is called “Mouvement du 14 juillet” (The 14th of July Movement), had gathered in front of the National Assembly after marching through Paris while the rest of the city commemorated Bastille Day. 
 
Leaders called on its members, said to number 500, to uphold their “duty to rise up” and to create a “new government where all the current politicians are replaced”. 
 
 
 
(France's National Assembly, where the coup was supposed to take place. AFP)
 
A spokesman from the movement, which claims to be made up of “ordinary citizens” fed up with France's political system, said that the group planned to enlist the help of a nearby marching military unit to help overpower the government, most of whom were out watching the parade.
 
“The military will have a choice to make, and we hope they will join us. Then we will take control of strategic buildings,” the spokesman told Les Inrocks magazine before the march, adding that these buildings included the Elysée Palace, Matignon (the official residence of the prime minister), the Luxembourg Palace and the National Assembly.
 

 
However thankfully for President François Hollande and co, the military declined to join the protesters and the attempted coup d'état was unsuccessful.
 
Most of the participants were led away by police, without much of a fight.
 
Police told the media that the group was marching illegally as they had not asked for permission to protest. Officers added the protesters were only arrested for identity purposes, and were not taken into custody. 
 
The Mouvement du 14 Juillet describes itself online as a “collective of ordinary citizens” aiming to “change the course of current history” by “fundamentally changing the management structures of society”.
 
A journalist who has followed the group's developments extensively told the magazine that many of the members are “lost”, and that the group risks acting as a gateway to the extreme right.
 
The last time France saw a successful dissolution of the National Assembly after a coup d'état was in 1851, when Prince Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte staged a self-coup to stay in office and push through his planned reforms.

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DISCOVER FRANCE

Inside Brégançon: The French presidential Riviera holiday home

If you're expecting to see French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris over the summer you're likely to be disappointed - he and his wife Brigitte are at Brégançon, the official Riviera 'holiday home' of the presidents of France.

Inside Brégançon: The French presidential Riviera holiday home

The Fort of Brégançon, which stands on a rock 30 metres above the sea, has been offering privacy and sunshine to French presidents for decades, although its history goes back much further than that.

The fort is perched on a tiny island – just 4.5km long – connected to the French mainland by a causeway and has been a strategic site since the 6th century, acting as a seigneurial residence, a Crown estate property and a military site equipped with artillery including 23 cannons under Napoleon Bonaparte.

It was Charles de Gaulle who gave it the status of official presidential residence in 1968 and it’s usually used for presidential holidays – similar to Camp David in the USA and Chequers in the UK.

It has since been transformed into a pleasant residence while maintaining what remained of the ancient fortress, giving presidents the opportunity to take advantage of the sunshine of the Riviera.

French presidents have their main residence and offices in the Elysée Palace, the beautiful 18th century residence in the heart of Paris. In addition to Brégançon, presidents also have the use of La Lanterne, a former hunting lodge in the grounds of Versailles, and although they can’t stay in the sumptuous Palace of Versailles they do sometimes hold events and meeting with foreign dignitaries there.

It’s Brégançon’s offshore location that was the key for De Gaulle, who considered it the only place in the south of France secure enough to receive foreign heads of state, particularly from Mediterranean countries in the geopolitical context of decolonisation. 

While it remains secure, it is these days within long-lens range for photographers, as several presidents have discovered. 

But through the years of the Fifth Republic, French presidents have had quite varying attitudes to this undoubted perk of the job.

De Gaulle’s successor Georges Pompidou seemed to love it and spent his weekends in the Fort both in summers and winters. He opened its doors to the media, letting himself be photographed with his spouse in more relaxed clothing and playing pétanque with his bodyguards.

Georges Pompidou and his wife Claude in August 1969 pose in the gardens during their summer holiday. Photo by AFP

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who regularly stayed there with his family, brought the national spotlight on the Fort by letting paparazzi venture around the residence, snapping pictures of him in swimsuit and tennis shoes, but also installing CCTV inside the residence.

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing poses for photos with his wife Anne-Aymone in 1979. Photo by AFP

When socialist François Mitterrand won the election, he declared: “the Republic doesn’t need a secondary residence.”

He limited his visits to work meeting – the SNCF strikers in 1987 and two heads of state the Irish Prime Minister Garret Fitzgerald and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl – although he took no steps to sell off Brégancon. 

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was hosted by François Mitterand in August 1985. Photo by PIERRE CIOT / AFP

His successor Jacques Chirac particularly appreciated the fort because of its location in the Var département where he lived as a child.

With his spouse Bernadette, they regularly attend mass at the local church and greeted residents and tourists. In 2004, the President received Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to appease tensions. The Brégançon presidential desk was photographed for the first time.

Jacques Chirac and Brigitte leaving the local church in May 1999 Photo by VANINA LUCCHESI / AFP

During his presidency Nicolas Sarkozy received foreign politicians including Condoleezza Rice, but also took some time to exercise. The pictures of him jogging around the Fort were described as creating a new style of presidential communication. Later, he was photographed on the beach with first lady Carla Bruni during her pregnancy.

Nicolas Sarkozy jogging, followed by his bodyguards on bikes. Photo by GERARD JULIEN / AFP

François Hollande, who branded himself as a “normal president” felt no particular attachment to the Fort and opened the site to the public for visits, although he did host some work meetings there.

A rather formal looking Francois Hollande meets with his Prime Minister Manuel Valls at Brégançon. Photo by BERTRAND LANGLOIS / POOL / AFP

Since being elected in 2017 Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron seem to have enjoyed the Fort, retreating there during the summers and being photographed on the beach or having fun on jet-skis – they also installed a swimming pool which cost €34,000.

Brigitte Macron owns a property in the northern French seaside resort of Le Touquet, which the couple use for family time. But Emmanuel Macron has also used the Fort for work, hosting British Prime Minister Theresa May in August 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin in August 2019, on the eve of the G7 in Biarritz, and Chancellor Angela Merkel in summer 2020. 

Emmanuel Macron welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Bregancon in August 2020. Photo by Christophe SIMON / POOL / AFP

This year he declared that he would be having a “pause studieuse” at Brégançon and use the summer to think about how to tackle some of France’s most pressings issues.

With a cost of living crisis, war in Europe and political turmoil at home, let’s hope that his beach reading bears fruit.

By Julie Edde

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