French court upholds police use of controversial rubber bullets used on 'yellow vests'

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French court upholds police use of controversial rubber bullets used on 'yellow vests'
Riot police officers aim rubber bullet guns at 'yellow vest' protesters during a demo in Nantes on 26 January 2019. Photo: AFP

France's top administrative court ruled on Friday that police could continue using a rubber bullet launcher blamed for dozens of injuries during the "yellow vest" protests which have roiled the country since November.


The CGT labour union and the Human Rights League NGO had filed the complaint seeking a ban on the weapons, which shoot 40-millimetre rubber projectiles that are considered non-lethal.

Their representatives argued this week that the rubber bullets had been fired some 9,200 times since the anti-government protests began, causing severe injuries in many cases.

The Desarmons-Les (Disarm Them) collective, which campaigns against police violence, claims that 20 protesters have lost an eye from the devices.

Such weapons are prohibited for use in riot control in most Western European countries.

But the Council of State said that the threat of violence during the yellow vest protests being held on Saturdays in Paris and other cities rendered their use by police necessary.

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Medics help a man hit by a police LBD40 rubber bullet gun in Lyon on 19 January 2019 during a yellow vest protest. Photo: AFP

"Contrary to what the applicants claimed, the organisation of operations to maintain order during the recent demonstrations did not indicate any intention by the authorities not to respect the strict rules governing the use" of such "less-lethal weapons," the court said.

Use of the specialised "defence ball launchers" (LBDs) "is particularly appropriate for responding to these types of situations, as long as the rules governing their use are respected," it said.

Government defends rubber bullets

The government has defended the police use of both rubber bullets and stun grenades as necessary to guard against violent individuals among the yellow vests activists who have repeatedly attacked security forces.

"These less-lethal weapons are essential, they allow us to keep protesters and rioters at a distance, or to approach them for arrest without having to use weapons that can kill," junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez told RTL radio ahead of the court's ruling on Friday.

However last Saturday the government started equipping police using the weapons with body cameras, to potentially provide evidence in case of claims of injuries.

A 12th round of protests has been called for Saturday against the government of President Emmanuel Macron and his pro-business economic policies, which are seen by many as out of touch with the concerns of rural and small-town France.

The marches Saturday will also honour the more than 1,900 people injured since the protests began in November, according to official figures.

The court's decision comes as lawmakers debate a bill aimed at cracking down on the vandalism and violence that has marred the yellow vest movement, including clashes with police and the torching of dozens of cars.

MPs in Macron's Republic on the Move party are seeking more severe penalties for organisers of unauthorised demonstrations and for people covering their faces during violent protests.









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