‘Commit suicide!’: Paris prosecutors probe taunts targeting police at ‘yellow vest’ protests

Paris prosecutors have launched an investigation after French anti-government protesters in the latest of a series of demonstrations shouted slogans mocking police over a spate of recent suicides in the force, judicial sources said Sunday.

'Commit suicide!': Paris prosecutors probe taunts targeting police at 'yellow vest' protests
Photos: AFP

The “yellow vest” protesters took to the streets of Paris Saturday for the 23rd weekend to protest against the policies of President Emmanuel Macron, again clashing with police in a tense standoff.

But French politicians and police unions angrily condemned some demonstrators who chanted “commit suicide, commit suicide!” at the police forces on Saturday.

France's national police force has been troubled by a worrying increase in suicides within its numbers this year, with 28 officers taking their lives so far in 2019. In 2018 as a whole, 35 police committed suicide nationwide.

“Shame on those who have given into such ignominy,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner wrote on Twitter above a video of protesters chanting the slogan.

Paris prosecutors have now opened a probe into “contempt of a person carrying out public authority at a meeting,” a judicial source told AFP, confirming an earlier report by French radio station RTL.

'Doesn't exonerate us' 

“We have reached a convulsion of hatred. These words are intolerable and unacceptable,” said Frederic Lagache, the director of Alliance, the main police union in France.

“It is an insult to all the police who have died, to their families and to the institution as a whole,” he told AFP.

French police have been in the frontline seeking to control the yellow vest protest movement, which erupted late last year in the biggest crisis of the Macron presidency so far.

Even before the incident at Saturday's protest, suicides of police was becoming a major talking point in France.

National police chief Eric Morvan raised the issue in a letter to France's 150,000 police, acknowledging there had been a “dramatic sequence” of suicides among police in recent days.

He said suicide was something that “needs to be talked about, without fear of being judged”.

Morvan added: “the human responsibility that someone has in taking this terrible decision does not exonerate us from ours.”

Police union activists have complained that French officers are being put under huge stress by the pressure of having to work every weekend at the protests.

On Thursday alone, two police took their own lives.

A policeman shot himself at home with his service weapon in Villejuif outside Paris while a female police captain shot herself in the heart in her office in Montpellier.

The death of the police captain, a mother of two children, provoked a wave of grief in Montpellier where hundreds of police held a minute of silence outside police headquarters on Friday.

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What happened to the rioters who trashed the Arc de Triomphe during yellow vest violence?

A court in France has finally handed out sentences to some of those involved in the vandalism and theft at the Arc de Triomphe in December 2018 - when 'yellow vest' violence in Paris shocked the world.

What happened to the rioters who trashed the Arc de Triomphe during yellow vest violence?
'Yellow vest' protesters clash with police by the Arc de Triomphe on December 1st 2018 in Paris. Photo: Abdulmonam EASSA / AFP

The French court on Thursday sentenced eight people to suspended jail terms and community service for taking part in one of the most violent episodes of the anti-government ‘yellow vest’ protests that rocked France two years ago.

A total of nine stood trial this week for the incident, but one of them, a former soldier, was cleared for lack of evidence, presiding judge Sonia Lumbroso said at the verdict.

The court ruled the suspects were neither the instigators nor the main culprits of the vandalism and looting around the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris, when scenes of destruction and fierce clashes with police made global headlines.

Most of them had no criminal records.

They were sentenced to 70 hours of community service for entering the monument, but those also found guilty of stealing items such as postcards, Arc de Triomphe models or miniature Eiffel Towers from the gift shop, were fined €100 for theft.

A ‘yellow vest’ protester arrives at the courthouse in Paris to attend the trial of ten people on charge of destruction and theft around the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris. Photo: Thomas COEX / AFP

One of the group, a man who was caught on camera trying to break down a door with a fire extinguisher, was handed the most severe sentence, a suspended prison term of eight months.

Dozens of cars were set on fire and businesses trashed all along the celebrated Champs-Elysées avenue on December 1st, 2018, the third Saturday of mass demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron.

READ ALSO: Macron risks losing support from left against Le Pen in French presidential election

He was accused of ignoring the plight of struggling French families and after months of protests he abandoned a planned fuel tax hike and raised spending on the lowest earners.

The protesters had already skirmished with security forces at earlier rallies, but police were unprepared for the rioting that engulfed the capital just a few weeks before Christmas.

Despite firing volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets, the officers were forced to abandon their positions around the Arc de Triomphe, which honours France’s war dead.

Protesters snuffed out the eternal flame over the tomb of an unknown World War I soldier and spray-painted the stone walls with graffiti including “the yellow vests will triumph”.

Others forced their way inside the arch, ransacking the gift shop and damaging scores of artworks, causing damage that cost €1.2 million to repair.

READ ALSO: Is France’s ‘yellow vest’ movement really on its way back?