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Fireworks attack on French police sparks protest

Dozens of French police officers carrying placards depicting themselves as targets demonstrated on Monday outside a station that was attacked with fireworks in an eastern Paris housing estate known for drug trafficking.

Fireworks attack on French police sparks protest
Police officers protesting outside the station. Photo: AFP

Champigny-sur-Marne on Saturday night saw the latest in a string of assaults on the security forces, who have been repeatedly targeted, by jihadists and youths in deprived areas.

Around 40 people armed with steel bars besieged the station, smashing car windows and the entrance door before setting off a flurry of rockets that lit up the night sky. No injuries were reported.

Coming in a week when two police officers were shot while carrying out surveillance in the northwestern Paris suburb of Herblay, the attack added to the discontent brewing in the ranks.

“What happened on Saturday night was the last straw,” Bruno Angelo, the deputy regional leader of the United SGP Police trade union, told AFP on Monday.

Describing a force at the end of its tether, he called for stiff punishments against the “young hoodlums” behind the attack so that “they'll think twice before doing it again.”

An officer from the station, who did not wish to give his name, told AFP that he no longer felt safe at his workplace.

“It's already hard enough outside and now you feel that there is no respite, even when you're back inside (the station),” he said.

Prime Minister Jean Castex vowed to “show no mercy” with the perpetrators. 

“When you see a police station being attacked, like in Champigny-sur-Marne, when you see two officers being savagely attacked, like last week in Val d'Oise, you say to yourself that the the state and the republic are being targeted,” Castex told France Info radio on Monday.

He said police efforts to stop drug trafficking had “not gone down well” with the criminals and vowed: “We won't be deterred.”

Tear gas canister see after the attack on the station. Photo: AFP 

Plumetting morale

Morale has been at a low ebb in the French police over the past few years. Officers complained of coming under sustained attack while policing anti-government “yellow vest” demonstrations as well as during anti-drug operations in the high-rise estates that ring major cities.

A November 2019 study by France's national crime observatory (ONDRP) found that 6,002 police agents were wounded on duty during 2018, a 16 percent jump from the previous year.

ANALYSIS: Has crime in France really spiralled out of control since lockdown?

Of these, 666 officers were wounded by guns, knives or other weapons compared with 418 in 2017. But the police have been repeatedly accused of brutality during operations in suburbs with big immigrant populations as well as while trying to disperse protests.

In June, thousands of French people took part in the global Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of black American George Floyd at the hands of US police.

The protesters said Floyd's death echoed incidents of death and injury during police operations in France.

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CRIME

French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

A French court on Thursday convicted eight men for the theft and handling of a Banksy painting paying homage to the victims of the 2015 attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris.

French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

Three men in their 30s who admitted to the 2019 theft were given prison sentences, one of four years and two of three, although they will be able to serve them wearing electronic tracking bracelets rather than behind bars.

Another man, a 41-year-old millionaire lottery winner and street art fan accused of being the mastermind of the heist, was given three years in jail for handling stolen goods after judges found the main allegation unproven. His sentence will also be served with a bracelet.

Elsewhere in the capital, the defence was making its final arguments in the trial of the surviving suspects in the 2015 Paris attacks themselves, with a verdict expected on June 29.

‘Acted like vultures’ 

British street artist Banksy painted his “sad girl” stencil on the metal door of the Bataclan in memory of the 90 people killed there on November 13th, 2015.

A white van with concealed number-plates was seen stopping on January 26, 2019 in an alleyway running alongside the central Paris music venue.

Many concertgoers fled via the same alley when the Bataclan became the focal point of France’s worst ever attacks since World War II, as Islamic State group jihadists killed 130 people at a string of sites across the capital.

On the morning of the theft, three masked men climbed out of the van, cut the hinges with angle grinders powered by a generator and left within 10 minutes, in what an investigating judge called a “meticulously prepared” heist.

Prosecutor Valerie Cadignan told the court earlier this month that the perpetrators had not sought to debase the memory of the attack victims, but “being aware of the priceless value of the door were looking to make a profit”.

She said the thieves “acted like vultures, like people who steal objects without any respect for what they might represent”.

During the trial, Bataclan staff said the theft sparked “deep indignation”, adding that the painted door was a “symbol of remembrance that belongs to everyone, locals, Parisians, citizens of the world”.

Investigators pieced together the door’s route across France and into Italy, where it was found in June 2020 on a farm in Sant’Omero, near the Adriatic coast.

Three men involved in transporting the door were each jailed for 10 months, while a 58-year-old Italian man who owns a hotel where it was temporarily stored received a six-month suspended sentence.

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