Thousands March Against Police Violence, Security Bill In Paris

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The French government’s attempts to calm growing public fury over new legislation deemed a danger to civil liberties is being challenged with a new wave of protests across the country.

On Saturday, a largely peaceful march against the contested global security law and police violence in Paris degenerated after hooded and black-clad casseurs – vandals – disrupted the demonstration for the second weekend in a row.

Clusters of hooded youths set fire to vehicles, smashed shop windows and hurled stones and molotov cocktails at police, who responded with water cannons and teargas.

About 90 demonstrations were organised across the rest of France, most of which passed off without major incident.

France is facing a number of explosive factors – a bitterly contested law, a debate over police violence, fears of terrorism after the beheading of a school teacher and the ongoing Covid-19 crisis – combining to provide what one commentator called “the wood, the petrol and the matches” to set the country alight.

The “liberty marches” – combined with the annual union day of protests against “unemployment and precariousness” held on the first Saturday in December – reflected ongoing fierce opposition to article 24 of the new security law. The article makes it punishable to publish photographs or videos identifying police or gendarmes with “intent” to cause psychological or physical harm, and is seen as a direct attack on press freedom.

The government has promised to completely rewrite article 24, but a report by United Nations experts last week expressed concern about other parts of the legislation that has already been passed by MPs in the Assemblée Nationale, describing it as “incompatible” with international law and human rights. The report expressed particular concern about giving police powers to monitor crowds with drones and facial recognition.

At the centre of the current conflagration, President Emmanuel Macron and his hardline interior minister Gérald Darmanin have engaged in a classic good-cop-bad-cop routine. Last week, Macron insisted France was not veering to the right: “France is not an authoritarian state. It is not Hungary or Turkey,” he said.

Increasingly stung by criticism from national and particularly international media that has accused him of pandering to Marine Le Pen’s core electorate, Macron spent over two hours answering questions directly on Brut, a video site popular with the young. During what some French press called “Operation Seduction”, he rejected the term “police violence”, which he said was being used as a political “manipulation”, but said, “There are police who are violent … but there are also people who are violent”, adding that there had to be “zero tolerance” for both.

Macron, who has faced criticism over his “separatism” law, aimed at reinforcing the country’s secular traditions and combating Islamist extremism, but seen as targeting the country’s wider Muslim community, also announced he would set up a “discrimination alert” site, adding: “Today, when the colour of our skin isn’t white, we are more often stopped and checked [by police] … which is unacceptable.”

France’s police unions were not seduced and threatened to stop arresting and checking people’s papers altogether – The Observer/Guardian

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