France to review policing strategy for street protests after violence at ‘yellow vest’ demos

France's interior minister on Monday launched a review of police methods used to control demonstrations since the emergence of the "yellow vest" movement whose weekly protests have often turned violent.

France to review policing strategy for street protests after violence at 'yellow vest' demos
A demonstration against policing tactics. Photo: AFP

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner defended the way in which police have handled the protests but asked a specially-chosen panel of some 15 experts to develop new ideas for managing demonstrations.

The yellow vest movement, which emerged last year to denounce the policies of President Emmanuel Macron, has held weekly protests across France for the past seven months.

Police in clouds of tear gas in Lyon. Photo: AFP

On some occasions – especially in Paris – protests have degenerated into pitched battles on the streets with police, with both sides trading accusations of violence.

“I want to hear what you think about the use of force, about the arms we use and what some call 'police violence',” Castaner told the experts who include a prosecutor, a sociologist and security figures.

But Castaner, a loyal Macron ally who has taken a hard line against unrest in the protests, indicated he did not expect police to revert to softly-softly tactics.

“We are not going to respond to Molotov cocktails with nice feelings and we are not going to protect the order of the Republic with soft words,” he said.

“I need your ideas to respond strongly to unbridled violence while protecting” even those have committed “these excesses”.

There has been huge controversy in France over the tactics used by the police to restore order during the yellow vest demonstrations.

Antoine Boudinet and Patrice Philippe were both wounded while on 'yellow vest' protests. Photo: AFP

French police use the non-lethal flash-ball handheld weapon as well as sting-ball grenades to deter demonstrators.

According to France's National Police Inspectorate (IGPN), the security forces used three to four times more flash balls and sting-ball grenades in 2018 than the year earlier, following the emergence of the yellow vest movement.

Activists say the use of such devices has unnecessarily increased the danger of demonstrators sustaining severe injuries.

Yellow vest activists say 23 protesters have lost the use of an eye, five lost a hand, and one a testicle, while dozens more have sustained other injuries.

Earlier this month, demonstrators staged a protest called the “march of the mutilated” to denounce what they said was heavy-handed police violence.

In mid-May, the interior ministry said 2,448 demonstrators had sustained injuries along with 1,797 members of the security forces. 

Member comments

  1. Has anyone read of a single serious head injury to a French cop? Of course not, it would be in the mainstream news 24/7. There have been 300 such head injuries to yellow vests.

    Has anyone heard of a cop losing an eye, hand or testicle? No.

    This review should have happened in late November, not 7 months later. Pathetic.

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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?