France's 'yellow vests' rail at police violence

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France's 'yellow vests' rail at police violence
Protesters face anti-riot police officers in Strasbourg on February 1st. Photo: AFP

France's "yellow vest" movement demonstrated against alleged police violence in rallies across the country Saturday, as nearly 60 lawyers denounced the treatment of protesters in the courts.


The latest marches came a day after France's top court threw out a bid to ban weapons that shoot 40-millimeter rubber projectiles blamed for a number of serious injuries.

Thousands of protesters took part in a "march of the injured" in Paris calling for a ban on the weapons.

One of the movement's leading figures Jerome Rodriguez, who was hit in the eye at last Saturday's demonstration, was greeted warmly by fellow demonstrators.

The marchers gathered for a rally at Place de la Republique in the city centre, where police used tear gas and water cannons to force demonstrators to keep their distance and clashes broke out with some protesters, some hooded or masked.

A police estimate put the turn-out at 10,500 in Paris, but an independent count carried out for the media, including, AFP, put the figure at 13,800.

An interior ministry estimate at 2:00 pm put the turn-out across France at 17,400, compared to the 22,000 they counted at the same time last weekend.

On Saturday, a group of 59 lawyers published an open letter on the France Info news website denouncing what they said was the harsh treatment of yellow vest protesters in the courts.

Judgments against demonstrators were being rushed through without proper respect for their rights, they wrote. They contrasted the speed of the rulings against their clients with the slow pace of investigations into alleged police violence.

The IGPN, the body that investigates police abuses, has launced 116 investigations into the conduct of officers during the protests, 10 of them concerning serious eye injuries suffered by demonstrators.

12th round of protests

Friday's court ruling against banning the "defensive ball launchers", known as LBDs, came despite claims by the Desarmons-Les (Disarm Them) collective that the weapons have blinded or seriously injured 20 protesters.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner acknowledged that the weapon, -- used more than 9,200 times since the start of the yellow vest protests -- could cause injuries. While defending their use against "rioters", he said that any abuse of the weapon would be punished.

This weekend's rallies across France included Toulouse and Bordeaux in the southwest, where support has been consistently strong, and several gatherings across Brittany in the northwest.

In Morlaix, Brittany, two police officers were injured and two demonstrators arrested after clashes between police and protesters, the regional authority reported.

Two officers were injured and a demonstrator arrested in the western port city of Nantes during clashes there, local officials said.

And there were clashes and 20 arrests in the northern city of Lille, where up to 1,800 protesters turned out, according to local officials -- 3,000 according to organisers.

This is the 12th day of protests organised by the movement, which sprang up in November to denounce fuel tax rises but quickly grew into a more broadly based protest against President Emmanuel Macron's aloof governing style.

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

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