PARIS (AFP) – France’s ‘yellow vest’ movement demonstrated against alleged police violence in rallies across the country on Saturday, as lawyers denounced the treatment of protesters in the courts.
The latest marches – the 12th in a row – came a day after France’s top court threw out a bid to ban weapons that fire 40-millimetre rubber projectiles blamed for a number of serious injuries.
Thousands of protesters took part in a “march of the injured” in Paris calling for a ban on the weapons.
One of the movement’s leading figures, Jerome Rodriguez, who was hit in the eye at last Saturday’s demonstration, was greeted warmly by fellow demonstrators each time he appeared.
The marchers gathered for a rally at Place de la Republique in the city centre, where police used tear gas and water cannons to force demonstrators to keep their distance and clashes broke out with some protesters, some hooded or masked.
“It’s unbearable and unacceptable,” said Antonio, one of the march organisers, who had been injured in police action.
“These are injuries which mutilate, which destroy lives while we are pacifists.”
A police estimate put the turn-out at 10,500 in Paris, but an independent count carried out for the media, including AFP, put the figure at 13,800. An Interior Ministry estimate put the turn-out across France at 58,600, compared with 69,000 the previous Saturday.
Meanwhile, a group of 59 lawyers published an open letter on the France Info news website denouncing what they said was harsh treatment of yellow vest protesters in the courts.
Judgments against demonstrators were rushed through without proper respect for their rights, they wrote. They contrasted the speed of the rulings against their clients with the slow pace of probes into alleged police violence.
The IGPN, the body that investigates police abuses, has launched 116 investigations into the conduct of officers during the protests, 10 of them concerning serious eye injuries suffered by demonstrators.
Friday’s court ruling against banning the “defensive ball launchers”, known as LBDs, came despite claims by the Desarmons-Les (Disarm Them) collective that the weapons have blinded or seriously injured 20 protesters.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner acknowledged that the weapon – used more than 9,200 times since the start of the yellow vest protests – could cause injuries. While defending their use against “rioters”, he said that any abuse of the weapon would be punished.
The weekend’s rallies across France included Toulouse and Bordeaux in the southwest, where support has been strong, and several gatherings across Brittany in the northwest.
In Morlaix, Brittany, two police officers were injured and two protestors arrested, the regional authority reported.
Two more officers were injured and a demonstrator arrested in the western port city of Nantes during clashes there, local officials said. There were also clashes and 20 arrests in the northern city of Lille, along with a total of 16 arrests in the eastern cities of Strasbourg and Nancy.
The movement sprang up last November to denounce fuel tax rises but quickly grew into a more broadly based protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s allegedly aloof governing style.
Members of Parliament (MPs) in Macron’s Republic on the Move party are seeking tougher penalties for organisers of unauthorised demonstrations and for people who cover their faces during violent protests.