French police watchdog received 1,500 complaints against officers as protests continue

France's police watchdog said on Monday it had received almost 1,500 complaints against officers last year, as the country reels from protests against racism and brutality.

French police watchdog received 1,500 complaints against officers as protests continue
Forty percent of complaints against the police were over policing of protests. Photo: AFP

About half of the complaints were for alleged violence against civilians, according to a report of the IGPN watchdog, with President Emmanuel Macron urging government to “accelerate” steps to improve police ethics amid widespread public anger over alleged abuses.

The presidency said Macron met on Sunday with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, who was set to hold a press conference later on Monday, after some 23,000 people protested in several cities Saturday to demand “justice”.

Demonstrators rallied in particular around the 2016 death in custody of Adama Traore, a 24-year-old black man, in a case with echoes of the death of George Floyd, which has sparked mass protests against police racism in the United States.

READ ALSO Who is Adama Traore and why are there protests in his name around France?


The IGPN said complaints rose by nearly a quarter last year, when police were deployed for months of weekly “yellow vest” anti-government protests.

The rallies often sparked tense confrontations that left several officers injured, but also civilians beaten or struck by rubber bullets.

According to an official count, about 2,500 demonstrators and 1,800 law enforcement agents were injured in yellow vest protests, which the IGPN said was at the origin of 310 of last year's complaints.

Violence and arson during the protests made world headlines, with rioters running amok in Paris and other cities, smashing shopfronts, torching cars and looting businesses.

But activists say two dozen people lost an eye as police used rubber bullets to rein in the rallies, and five lost a hand to stun grenades.

READ ALSO How the 'yellow vests' forced France to have a conversation about police police 

In January, when police were dealing with a nationwide strike against pension reform, a riot officer was caught on camera punching a bloodied protester held down on his back.

Another video showed an officer tripping a woman, and yet another a policeman firing a rubber bullet at point-blank range.

In the wake of the Floyd protests, which have since spread worldwide, the French demonstrations were sparked by an expert report last month clearing the three arresting officers in Traore's case.

This was in spite of one of the officers having told investigators the young man had been pinned to the ground with their combined body weight, and a report commissioned by Traore's family finding he had died due to the police members' actions.

Some 20,000 people rallied in Paris last Tuesday to demand justice for Traore and Floyd, even though authorities had outlawed any mass gatherings, followed Saturday by more protests in several French cities.

Last week, the public mood was further inflamed when media outlets published the contents of a private Facebook group on which police members repeatedly used racist and sexist terms and mocked victims of police brutality.

Castaner promised that “every mistake, every excess, every word including racist expressions” by police would be investigated and punished.

Macron has instructed Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet to reopen the probe into Traore's death, and Castaner to step up measures to “improve the ethics” of the police force, the presidency said.

The IGPN report said nearly 40 percent of the cases reported last year arose from police action during protests, and 13 percent during identity checks.

Another 14 percent were for alleged violence committed against people in detention.

Also on Monday, France's human rights ombudsman Jacques Toubon raised the alarm over a “crisis of public confidence in the security forces” and urged a reversal of what he described as a “warring mentality” in law enforcement.

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Two mountaineers killed and 9 injured in ice fall in Swiss mountains

A Frenchwoman and a Spaniard were killed and nine other mountaineers were injured on Friday in an ice fall in southwest Switzerland, police said following a rescue attempt involving several helicopters.

Two mountaineers killed and 9 injured in ice fall in Swiss mountains

Police received calls at 6.20 am reporting that mountaineers had been caught up in falling seracs — columns of glacial ice formed by crevasses — on the Grand Combin, a glacial massif near the Italian border in the Wallis region.

Seven helicopters with mountain rescue experts flew to the scene, finding 17 mountaineers split among several groups.

“Two people died at the scene of the accident,” Wallis police said in a statement. They were a 40-year-old Frenchwoman and a 65-year-old man from Spain.

Nine mountaineers were airlifted to hospitals in nearby Sion and in Lausanne. Two of them are seriously injured, police said.

Other mountaineers were evacuated by helicopter.

The regional public prosecutor has opened an investigation “to determine the circumstances of this event”, the police said.

The serac fall happened at an altitude of 3,400 metres in the Plateau de Dejeuner section along the Voie du Gardien ascent route.

The Grand Combin massif has three summits above 4,000 metres, the highest of which is the Combin de Grafeneire at 4,314 metres.

The police issued a note of caution about setting off on such high-altitude expeditions.

“When the zero-degree-Celsius isotherm is around 4,000 metres above sea level, it is better to be extra careful or not attempt the route if in doubt,” Wallis police said.

“The golden rule is to find out beforehand from the mountain guides about the chosen route and its current feasibility.”