French minister has ‘no regrets’ over yellow vest policing, despite injuries

A French minister says that he has "no regrets" over the handling of the "yellow vest" protests, even if stun grenades and rubber bullets cost some demonstrators a hand or an eye.

French minister has 'no regrets' over yellow vest policing, despite injuries
A protest against policing tactics for 'yellow vests'; Photo: AFP

Junior interior minister Laurent Nunez's comments came after a group of people who said they had been mutilated while taking part in the anti-government protests marched through Paris on Sunday.

“We have no regrets over the way that we have handled public order and public safety,” Nunez told broadcaster RTL/LCI.

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Protesters in Paris on Sunday. Photo: AFP

“When there is an attack on the police and there is a proportionate response, yes there can be injuries,” said Nunez.

“It's not because a hand has been blown off, because an eye has been blinded, that the violence is illegal. I'm not apologising, I'm leaving it to the justice system of my country,” he added.

The French authorities have been criticised sharply for their handling of the protests.

Six months after a spontaneous revolt in rural and small-town France began against President Emmanuel Macron, the often violent protests by people wearing fluorescent yellow vests still continue ever Saturday, although the numbers turning out are now greatly reduced.

Nunez described the yellow vest protests as an “unprecedented crisis”, the likes of which France had not faced in 50 or 60 years.

Despite that, he added, “overall, things went well so far as public order is concerned”.

Between 300 and 400 people took part in what they called a “march of the mutilated” in Paris on Sunday, denouncing the police use of stun grenades and rubber bullets.

A number of protesters — and some bystanders — have lost the use of an eye when hit by the rubber bullets, and some people who tried to pick up the stun grenades lost a hand as they exploded.

Antoine Boudinet, left, and Patrice Philippe are among those who have suffered injuries on 'yellow vest' protests. Photo: AFP

Overall since the protests began on November 17, 2,448 demonstrators and 1,797 police and gendarmes have been injured during the marches, according to interior ministry figures released on May 13th.

On Thursday, Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz told Le Parisien newspaper that any police involved in unwarranted violence against yellow vest protesters would be in court by the end of the year.

Heitz said there had been more than 170 cases of police violence reviewed, with 57 of them completed and awaiting a decision whether to prosecute.

On Friday, government spokesman Sibeth Ndiaye told French broadcaster LCI that police officers who used unjustified violence had to be punished.

Nunez on Sunday said very few police officers were under investigation and even fewer such cases were being picked up by the prosecutor to take to court.

“A prosecution does not mean there will be a conviction,” and where there was a conviction, there would be an appeal, he added.

“I have every confidence in the police and the gendarmes of this country… we know that they have used force in a proportionate way in most cases, and force has only been used when it has been in response to violent attacks against themselves or against our institutions.”

The position of the interior ministry had always been that if there had been mistakes made in the use of force, there would be sanctions, he added — but that was in “an infinitesimal number of cases”.

In March, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet called for a “full investigation” into the possible use of excessive force by French police during the yellow vest protests.

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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.

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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?