‘Young people are more armed’: Macron warned about rise in violence

French police warned President Emmanuel Macron about rising levels of street violence, as he toured crime hotspots on Monday following a string of shocking assaults.

'Young people are more armed': Macron warned about rise in violence
French President Emmanuel Macron at a visit to a police station in Montpellier, southern France, on April 19th. Photo: Guillaume HORCAJUELO / POOL / AFP

A spate of violent attacks in recent months has made fear of crime a top political issue ahead of presidential elections next year in which Macron is expected to seek a second term.

“We are faced with young people who are more organised, and more heavily armed,” a policewoman named Ludivine told Macron in Montpellier.

Macron was driven around a poverty-wracked part of the southern city in a police car where he spoke to officers and observed drug-dealing spots.

“We are dealing with career criminals, always the same ones, around 50 of them in Montpellier,” the police officer said.

READ ALSO: Domestic violence and rape cases on rise in France as lockdown causes other crimes to fall

Another officer said that anti-police violence had been normalised during the anti-government ‘yellow vest’ revolt, which began in 2018.

Macron asked if police had observed a difference since the protests which often saw demonstrators battle security forces on the streets.

“Yes, demonstrators have become more professional. They don’t hesitate in getting physical with us,” another officer told the French president.

ANALYSIS: Is youth crime in France really ‘out of control’?

Security has become a top political issue in France 12 months ahead of the presidential election.

In a interview with the right-wing Le Figaro newspaper on Sunday, Macron acknowledged that physical assaults had increased.

“Since 2017, even though France has seen a fall of between 18-25 percent in violent thefts, burglaries and vehicle theft, it has had a major increase in physical assaults,” he said.

Macron singled out the rise in violence against police officers, firefighters and medics as being of particular concern.

He has promised to honour a target of recruiting 10,000 extra police officers by 2022 and his government has drafted controversial new legislation aimed at protecting and reinforcing the police.

Several recent crimes have shocked the country.

Alain Françon, one of France’s most prolific theatre directors, was stabbed in the throat near his hotel in central Montpellier in March by a man who told police he objected to Francon looking at him.

In January, a 15-year-old schoolboy was left in a coma after being repeatedly kicked by a gang in a well-heeled neighbourhood of the capital in an assault that captured national media attention for days.

Earlier this month, 78-year-old tycoon Bernard Tapie was tied up with electrical cords along with his wife during a violent overnight robbery at their home outside Paris.

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Burkini: Why is the French interior minister getting involved in women’s swimwear?

Bikini, topless, swimsuit, wetsuit, burkini - what women wear to go swimming in France is apparently the business of the Interior Minister. Here's why.

Burkini: Why is the French interior minister getting involved in women's swimwear?

It’s a row that erupts regularly in France – the use of the ‘burkini’ swimsuit for women – but this year there is an added wrinkle thanks to the country’s new anti-separatism law.

What has happened?

Local authorities in Grenoble, eastern France, have updated the rules on swimwear in municipal pools.

French pools typically have strict rules on what you can wear, which are set by the local authority.

For women the rule is generally a one-piece swimsuit or bikini, but not a monokini – the term in France for wearing bikini bottoms only, or going topless. For men it’s Speedos and not baggy swim-shorts and many areas also stipulate a swimming cap for both sexes.

These rules typically apply only to local-authority run pools, if you’re in a privately-owned pool such as one attached to a hotel, spa or campsite then it’s up to the owners to decide the rules and if you’re lucky enough to have a private pool then obviously you can wear (or not wear) what you want.

READ ALSO Why are the French so obsessed with Speedos?

Now authorities in Grenoble have decided to relax their rules and allow baggy swim shorts for men while women can go topless (monokini) or wear the full-cover swimsuit known as the ‘burkini’. This is essentially a swimsuit that has arms and legs, similar in shape to a wetsuit but made of lighter fabric, while some types also have a head covering.

Is this a problem?

No-one seems to have had an issue with the swim shorts or the topless rule, but the addition of the ‘burkini’ to the list of accepted swimwear has caused a major stir, with many lining up to condemn the move.

Those against it insist that it’s not about comfy swimwear, it’s about laïcité – that is, the French secularism rules that also outlaw the wearing of religious clothing such as the Muslim headscarf and the Jewish kippah in State spaces such as schools and government offices.

READ ALSO Laïcité: How does France’s secularism law work?

The burkini is predominantly worn by Muslim women, although some non-Muslim women also prefer it because it’s more modest and – for outdoor pools – provides better sun protection. 

Grenoble’s mayor Eric Piolle, one of the country’s highest profile Green politicians who leads a broad left-wing coalition locally, has championed the city’s move as a victory.

“All we want is for women and men to be able to dress how they want,” Piolle told broadcaster RMC.

Is this France’s first burkini row?

Definitely not, the modest swimsuit has been causing a stir for some years now.

In 2016 several towns in the south of France attempted to ban the burkini on their beaches. This went all the way to the Constitutional Court, which ruled that such a ban was unconstitutional, and the State cannot dictate what people wear on the beach.

The situation in municipal pools is slightly different in that local authorities can make their own rules under local bylaws. Most pools don’t explicitly ban the burkini, but instead list what is acceptable – and that’s usually either a one-piece swimsuit or a bikini. These decisions are taken on hygiene, not religious, grounds.

The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool code in 2019 to allow burkinis and other types of swimwear, which seems to have passed unnoticed until the Grenoble row erupted.

Why is the Interior Minister getting involved?

What’s different about the latest row is the direct involvement of the Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. He appears to have no objection to topless swimming in Grenoble, but he is very upset about women covering up when going for a dip.

No, he’s not some kind of creepy beauty pageant judge from the 1970s – he’s upset about laïcité.

Darmanin called the decision “an unacceptable provocation” that is “contrary to our values”.

He has ordered the local Préfet to open a review of the decision, and later announced that prosecutors had opened an inquiry into Alliance Citoyenne, a group that supports the wearing of burkinis in pools.

And the reason that he gets to intervene directly on the issue of local swimming pools rules is France’s ‘anti-separatism’ law that was passed in 2020.

This wide-ranging law covers all sorts of issues from radical preaching in mosques to home-schooling, but it also bans local councils from agreeing to ‘religious demands’ and among its provisions it allows the Interior Minister to intervene directly on certain issues.

So far this power has been used mostly to deal with extremism in mosques, several of which have been closed down for short periods while extremist preachers were removed.

Darmanin’s foray into women’s swimwear seems to represent an extension of the use of these powers. 

Is this all because there is an election coming up?

Parliamentary elections are coming up in June and the political temperature is rising. It’s certainly noticeable that in Darmanin’s initial tweet about the matter he referred to Grenoble mayor Eric Piolle as a “supporter of Mélenchon”, although Piolle is actually a member of the Green party.

Mélenchon and his alliance of leftist parties are currently the main rival for Macron’s LREM at the parliamentary elections.