‘Yellow vest’ injuries spark legal challenge to French police

PARIS (AFP) – A rights group and a major trade union went to France’s top administrative court on Wednesday seeking a ban on riot police using rubber bullets, blamed for injuring dozens of ‘yellow vest’ protesters.

Activists have denounced the police for their use of the projectiles during two months of anti-government protests, which have repeatedly ended in rioting.

A government spokesman told the court that police had opened 111 investigations into incidents surrounding their use at the protests.

In the National Assembly, meanwhile, Members of Parliament (MPs) approved measures to ban habitual troublemakers from the demonstrations.

Dozens of people have been seriously injured in clashes with police, including several who have been blinded.

Jerome Rodrigues (front L) and Eric Drouet (R), two of the leading figures of the ‘yellow vests’ movement, and Antonio (front C), who says he has been badly injured by a GLI-F4 tear gas and stun grenade, gesture at a press conference in Paris on Wednesday. – AFP

Protesters, rights groups and some sections of the French media have blamed some of the more serious injuries on the 1.6-inch rubber projectiles.

The Human Rights League (LDH) and the left-wing CGT union lodged a case at the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, after a lower administrative court rejected their petition last week.

Rubber bullets are prohibited for use in riot control in most western European countries.

The Desarmons-Les (Disarm Them) collective, which campaigns against police violence, claimed 20 protesters have lost an eye.

The government has defended the police use of both rubber bullets and stun grenades as necessary to guard against violent elements among the yellow vests activists who have repeatedly attacked security forces.

An Interior Ministry spokesman told the Council of State on Wednesday the weapon had been used 9,228 times during the ‘yellow vest’ protests.

And out of those cases, the General Inspectorate of the National Police had opened 111 investigations, Pascale Leglise told the court.

The debate flared up again at the weekend after a yellow-vest leader was badly injured in one eye while filming a protest in Paris.

Jerome Rodrigues, who was treated in hospital for his injuries, claimed he was hit by a rubber bullet during clashes at the Bastille square.

Junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez said there was “no indication” that his injuries had been caused by such a projectile.

Two investigations are underway into the incident, which occurred as police for the first time wore body cameras to record their use of the ‘defence ball launchers’ (LBDs) – the rifles that shoot rubber rounds.