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Yellow vests: France set to bring in controversial anti-rioting bill

French MPs have started debating a controversial anti-rioting bill which aims to crack down on the sort of street violence that has marred "yellow vest" anti-government protests since November.

Yellow vests: France set to bring in controversial anti-rioting bill
Photo: AFP
The bill notably aims to ban individuals identified as habitual hooligans from taking part in demonstrations, and force protesters involved in acts of violence to pay for the damage.
   
Some MPs also want more severe penalties for organisers of unauthorised demonstrations as well as people who cover their faces during violent protests.
   
But the bill has drawn fire — even within President Emmanuel Macron's own centrist party — from critics who say the proposals represent a threat to civil liberties.
   
Announcing the draft law earlier this month, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said some of the anti-Macron “yellow vest” protests had led to unacceptable violence.
   
“In many towns in France, demonstrations have been peaceful — but we cannot accept some people taking advantage of these demonstrations to cross the line, break things and set things on fire.”
 
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Photo: AFP
 
Freedom to protest
 
The protests began in November against rising fuel taxes, but quickly spiralled into a wider revolt over accusations that Macron, a former banker, is out of touch with ordinary people in small-town and rural France.
 
Across France tens of thousands have joined protests and road blocks, although the numbers have eased in recent weeks after Macron announced a series of policy climbdowns and a public consultation so people could vent their anger.
   
In several cities — but especially Paris — the weekend protests have repeatedly descended into violence. 
   
Rioters in the capital torched cars and looted shops in early December, and also ransacked the Arc de Triomphe monument.
 
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner insisted the bill, backed by police unions, was not “an anti-yellow vest law” or “anti demonstration” law. 
 
Photo: AFP
   
“It's a law to protect demonstrators, shopkeepers, local residents and police,” he told BFM television.
   
Yael Braun-Pivet, the LREM head of the national assembly's cross-party laws commission, said protecting the right to demonstrate would be front and centre in the debate.
 
“What guarantees are being put around this procedure?” she demanded, telling the Journal du Dimanche newspaper earlier this month that she was “reticent” over certain measures.
   
Leftist critics have decried the bill as “liberticide” and have been little reassured by Castaner's suggestion that a protest ban would concern fewer than 300 people.
   
Already revised by Braun-Pivet's commission, more than 200 amendments have been proposed to the bill, with a final vote due next Tuesday.
   
The draft law could also see protesters who mask their faces fined up to 15,000 euros ($17,000) and handed a one-year prison term.

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POLICE

French police battle rioters in deprived Toulouse suburb

Angry youths in a deprived area of the French city of Toulouse have attacked police, torched cars and set fire to garbage during two nights of clashes that have led to 18 arrests, police said Tuesday.

French police battle rioters in deprived Toulouse suburb
French riot police Photo: AFP
The rioting in the Mirail area of the southern city, a high-crime neighbourhood once home to several jihadists, was apparently sparked by the death of a local man in prison and an identity check by police on a veiled woman on Sunday.
   
After nearly four hours of clashes on Sunday night that saw gangs throw  stones at the local police station and set fire to about 10 cars, violence flared again on Monday night.
   
“Security forces were targeted throughout the night and carried out 18 arrests for violence, arson and insults,” a statement from top local security official Pascal Mailhos said.
 
People walk in the Mirail area in Toulouse, southern France where the clashes have been taking place. Photo: AFP
 
Anger in the area appeared to have been fuelled by the death of a local man in the nearby Seysses prison on Saturday which led to rumours that guards were 
responsible.
   
A judicial investigation is underway, local prosecutors said, adding that  an autopsy had found that suicide was the cause of the death.
   
Local police chief Arnaud Bavois said that an identity check on a fully  veiled woman on Sunday exacerbated the tensions after she refused to show her papers to officers.
   
The Mirail area of Toulouse, whose high-rise social housing projects are  known areas for drug-dealing and delinquency, is a troublespot that has been designated a priority area by French police. 
   
The city is also home to European aerospace giant Airbus.
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