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POLICE

Macron says there is ‘urgent’ need to reform French police following multiple violence complaints

President Emmanuel Macron has said there is "urgent" need to reform the French police following multiple allegations of brutality and complaints from officers about growing hostility from the public.

Macron says there is 'urgent' need to reform French police following multiple violence complaints
Photo: AFP

In a letter to a police union leader seen by AFP on Tuesday, Macron said he would call a meeting bringing together all sides in January to discuss how to improve relations between the police and communities.

“There is urgent need to act,” Macron said in the letter to the Unité-SGP-FO police union, signalling his intent to personally take charge of a hot-button issue that has brought tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets in recent weeks.

The roundtable discussion, which will bring together police representatives, lawmakers and community leaders, will also address the police's longstanding complaints over working conditions, he said.

ANALYSIS How did France's relationship with its own police get so bad?

 

“France is held together by its police and gendarmes….we owe them support and protection, I will see to it,” Macron wrote on Monday to union leader Yves Lefebvre.

In France, the issue of policing is the preserve of the interior minister.

But growing public distrust of the police, combined with increasing discontent in the ranks over long hours and rising anti-police violence, have put pressure on Macron to take action.

Footage of white officers beating up an unarmed black music producer in his studio last month acted as a turning point.

 

The images of the attack on Michel Zecler, who was stopped for not wearing a mask during the Covid-19 pandemic, fuelled longstanding allegations of racism in the force and amplified demonstrations against a bill that would have restricted filming of the police.

Macron's ruling LREM party has since promised to rewrite the controversial clause in its draft security law.

The four officers have been charged with assault and using racial slurs.

Other incidents caught on camera have shown police in Paris using violence to tear down a migrant camp.

In an interview last week with Brut, a video news portal aimed at young people, Macron called out the police on racial profiling.

 

“When you have a skin colour that is not white, you are stopped much more (by police). You are identified as a problem factor. And that cannot be justified,” he said.

He announced plans to set up a website where people could file complaints of discrimination.

But he also lashed out at the violence against police during demonstrations over the security bill.

In his letter to Lefebvre, he said January's meeting would tackle seven areas that have been identified by interior minister Gérald Darmanin as areas for reform.

They are: police training, supervision, resources, the filming of on-duty police, inspections, staffing levels and the relations between the police and citizens.

Lefebvre had written to the president to complain over his remarks on racial profiling.

He argued that the issue was not one of police racism but of immigrants being housed by the authorities in the same high-rise housing estates over decades.

 

Several unions including Unité-SGP had called on their members to stop work in response to Macron's comments.

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STRIKES

French Prime Minister Macron doubles down on pension age as strikes loom

France's prime minister on Sunday ruled out backtracking on a plan to raise the retirement age as unions prepared for another day of mass protests against the contested reform.

French Prime Minister Macron doubles down on pension age as strikes loom

An increase in the minimum retirement age to 64 from the current 62 is part of a flagship reform package pushed by President Emmanuel Macron to ensure the future financing of France’s pensions system.

After union protests against the change brought out over a million people into the streets on January 19, the government signalled there was wiggle room on some measures, including the number of contributing years needed to qualify for a full pension, special deals for people who started working very young, and provisions for mothers who interrupted their careers to look after their children.

But the headline age limit of 64 was not up for discussion, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said Sunday.

“This is now non-negotiable,” she told the FranceInfo broadcaster.

While unions have welcomed the government’s readiness for negotiation on parts of the plan, they say the proposed 64-year rule has to go.

Calling the reform “unfair” France’s eight major unions, in a rare show of unity, said they hoped to “mobilise even more massively” on Tuesday, their next scheduled protest day, than at the showing earlier this month.

“Even more people”

“It’s looking like there will be even more people”, said Celine Verzeletti, member of the hardleft union CGT’s confederation leadership.

Pointing to opinion polls, Laurent Berger, head of the moderate CFDT union, said that “the people disagree strongly with the project, and that view is gaining ground”.

It would be “a mistake” for the government to ignore the mobilisation, he warned.

Unions and the government both see Tuesday’s protests as a major test.

Some 200 protests are being organised countrywide, with a big march planned for Paris, culminating in a demonstration outside the National Assembly where parliamentary commissions are to start examining the draft law on Monday.

The leftwing opposition has submitted more than 7,000 amendments to the draft in a bid to slow its path through parliament.

Macron’s allies are short of an absolute majority in parliament and will need votes from conservatives to approve the pensions plan.

The government has the option of forcing the bill through without a vote under special constitutional powers, but at the risk of triggering a vote of no confidence, and possibly new parliamentary elections.

In addition to protest marches, unions have called for widespread strike action for Tuesday, with railway services and public transport expected to be heavily affected.

Stoppages are also expected in schools and administrations, with some local authorities having already announced closures of public spaces such as sports stadiums.

Some unions have called for further strike action in February, including at commercial ports, refineries and power stations.

Some observers said the unions are playing for high stakes, and any slackening of support Tuesday could be fatal for their momentum.

“They have placed the bar high,” said Dominique Andolfatto, a professor for political science. “They can’t afford any missteps.”

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