Philippe bans yellow vests from Champs Elysées
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the authorities would ban gatherings in areas that had been the most affected as soon as they confirmed extremists “claiming they belong to the gilets jaunes” were present.
Philippe said the Paris’ Champs Elysées, Pey-Berland Square in Bordeaux and Capitol Square in Toulouse were now off limits. The premier, apparently keen not to alienate the bulk of the protesters, said rioters who were not in the grass-roots yellow-vest movement were to blame for the violence.
“I do not mix up criminals and the majority of gilets jaunes,” Philippe said.
On Saturday, 60 people, including 17 police officers and a firefighter, were slightly injured on the 18th consecutive weekend of gilet jaunes demonstrations.
Traders on the Champs-Elysees are asking how around 5,000 police deployed in the capital on Saturday, far outnumbering the several hundred rioters, failed to stop the hours of violence and criminal damage.
Security cameras showed officers standing in formation while the protesters ransacked numerous businesses, sparking criticism from inside the police.
“You have to take responsibility and engage, with the possibility that people will get hurt,” said Frederic Lagache of the Alliance police union.
But the French authorities traditionally opt to use tear gas and rubber bullets rather than risk physical clashes with large groups.
“They would rather see a building damaged, with insurance companies footing the bill, than risk direct contact between police and demonstrators that might cause serious injuries or death,” said Olivier Cahn of the Cesdip legal research institute.
The government appears reticent to risk accusations of using excessive force against a movement that still enjoys widespread grassroots support, despite the repeated violence.
“The idea seems to be, if the violence persists, you have to be more repressive,” he added.
“That doesn’t do anything except make the protesters even more determined. There are techniques and strategies for separating violent demonstrators from the others,” Cahn said.
“Germany has strategies for de-escalating the tensions and separating protesters that are quite effective.”
Numerous protesters have already been injured in clashes, including some who claim they have lost eyes after being struck by rubber bullets.
Human rights groups have tried to have the police’s use of “defensive ball launchers” (LBD) stopped, saying France was one of only a handful of western states to use them.
The authorities say they allow officers to avoid dangerous contact with protesters throwing stones and using weapons.
Questions are being asked about police tactics. Picture credit: Wikimedia