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British charity worker cleared of attack on French police at migrant camp

A French court has acquitted a British charity worker accused of insulting and assaulting a policeman while helping migrants in northern France, his lawyers said on Friday, in a ruling welcomed by activists.

British charity worker cleared of attack on French police at migrant camp
The migrant camps in Calais have been the scene of frequent confrontations. Photo: AFP

Tom Ciotkowski, a council worker from Stratford upon Avon, could have faced up to five years in jail over the incident which took place in July 2018. 

His lawyers hailed Thursday's verdict from the court in Boulogne-sur-Mer as “thwarting an attempt to criminalise a caregiver”.

READ ALSO 'Chaos at the gates of Paris' – Inside the sprawling migrant camps that nobody talks about

According to France's CRS riot police, they were trying to remove migrants from an area near the ring road around the northern city of Calais when a group of “outspoken” British volunteers turned up. 

They said Ciotkowski had “shoved (the policeman) in the chest” and called him a “bitch bastard”, prompting the officer to push back in self-defence, causing him to fall over a security barrier. 

But their account was challenged by the defence and by Amnesty International, which accused them of putting him on trial “on trumped up charges”.

According to Ciotkowski, he was passing in a vehicle when he noticed police arguing with a group of volunteers so he got out to film what was going on.

In footage of the incident released by Amnesty, Ciotkowski explains how a policeman twice kicked a volunteer then hit a woman next to him. As he asks for the officer's badge number, there is a scuffle and a policeman can be seen shoving a figure over the barrier, almost into the path of an oncoming lorry. 

“I felt lucky that I hadn't died really. None of us had done anything wrong,” said the 30-year-old, who has pledged to return to the northern French city to keep on helping refugees gathered there in the hope of somehow reaching Britain.

Amnesty hailed his acquittal, which came on World Refugee Day, as “a victory for justice but also for common sense”, saying the actions of the police “should be promptly and thoroughly investigated”.

Earlier this month, Amnesty accused the French authorities of harassing, intimidating and even assaulting those offering aid to migrants in northern France in a deliberate bid to discourage their work.

Last month, Ciotkowski filed a complaint against the police officer who pushed him and against others who backed him up, with the IGPN police disciplinary body due to present its findings by the end of the year. 

 

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Snobs, beaches and drunks – 5 things this joke map teaches us about France

A popular joke 'map' of France has once again been widely shared on social media, sparking endless jokes at the expense of certain regions of France.

Snobs, beaches and drunks - 5 things this joke map teaches us about France
Image AFP/cartesfrance.fr
But while the map – created by cartesfrance.fr – is clearly intended to be comic, it teaches us some important points about France’s regional divides, local stereotypes and in-jokes.
 

 
 
 
Here are some of the key points.
 
1. Everyone hates Parisians
 
The map is purportedly France as seen through the eyes of Parisians, and contains a series of snobbish and rude generalisations about every part of France that is not maison (home) in the capital and its surroundings. The great majority of the country is labelled simply as paysans (peasants).
 
The general stereotype about Parisians is that they are snobs, rudely judging the rest of the country which they regard as backwards and full of ploucs (yokels) apart from small areas which make nice holiday destinations.
 
Like all sweeping generalisations, this is true of some people and very much not of others, but one of the few things that can unite people from all areas of France is how much they hate les parigots têtes de veaux (a colloquialism that very roughly translates as ‘asshole Parisians’)
 
 
2. Staycations rule
 
Even before Covid-related travel restrictions, holidaying within France was the norm for many French people.
 
As the map shows, Parisians regard the southern and western coastlines as simply plages (beaches) which they decamp to for at least a month in July or August. In the height of summer French cities tend to empty out (apart from tourists) as locals head to the seaside or the countryside.
 
 
In winter the Pyrenees and Alps are popular ski destinations.
 
3. Northerners like a drink
 
There is a very widespread stereotype, although not really backed up by evidence, that the people of Normandy, Brittany and the Nord area like a drink or two. Many suggest this is to cope with the weather, which does tend to be rainier than the rest of France (although has plenty of sunshine too).
 
 
Official health data doesn’t really back this up, as none of these areas show a significantly greater than average rate of daily drinkers, although Nord does hold the sad record for the highest rate of people dying from alcohol-related liver disease.
 
What’s certainly true is that Brittany and Normandy are cider country, with delicious locally-produced ciders on sale everywhere, well worth a try if you are visiting.
 
 
4. Poverty
 
The map labels the north eastern corner of France as simply pauvres – the poor.
 
The north east of the country was once France’s industrial and coal-mining heartland, and as traditional industries have declined there are indeed pockets of extreme poverty and high unemployment. The novel The End of Eddy, telling the story of novelist Edouard Louis’ childhood in a struggling small town near Amiens, lays out the social problems of such areas in stark detail.
 
However poverty is not just confined to one corner of France and the département that records the highest levels of deprivation is actually Seine-Saint-Denis in the Paris suburbs.
 
5. Southern prejudice
 
According to the map, those from the south are either branleurs (slackers) or menteurs (liars). 
 
This isn’t true, obviously, there are many lovely, hard-working and truthful people in southern France, but the persistent stereotype is that they are lazy – maybe because it’s too hot to do much work – and slightly shifty.
 
Even people who aren’t actually rude about southerners can be pretty patronising, as shown when south west native Jean Castex became the prime minister in summer 2020. 
 
Castex has a noticeable south west accent which sparked much comment from the Paris-based media and political classes, with comments ranging from the patronising – “I love his accent, I feel like I’m on holiday” – to the very patronising – “that accent is a bit rugby” (a reference to the fact that TV rugby commentators often come from France’s rugby heartlands in the south west).
 
 
In his first year as PM, Castex has undertaken a dizzying schedule of appointments around the four corners of France, so hopefully the lazy myth can now be put to bed.
 
And anyone tempted to take the piss out of his accent – glottophobie (accent prejudice) is now a crime in France.
 
For more maps that reflect France, head to cartesfrance.fr
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