The French Prime Minister has announced a package of measures aimed at preventing further violence linked to ‘yellow vest’ protests, including replacing the Paris chief of police and a ban on demos on the Champs-Elysées if radical protesters are present.
Michel Delpuech, 66, who has been in the job since April 2017, will be replaced on Wednesday by Didier Lallement, the top police official in the southwest region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine.
French police chiefs have come under fire for failing to control or prepare for the violence which erupted on the Champs-Elysées on Saturday when black-clad anarchists joined hardened yellow vest protesters looting and pillaging stores
“The strategy for maintaining order was not correctly implemented, said Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.
Philippe also announced a ban on further demos in parts of Paris, Bordeaux and Toulouse, including the area around the Champs-Elysées, if radical protesters, such as anarchists, were seen there.
The PM stressed that the measures were in response to those intent on violence and not ordinary yellow vest demonstrators who have taken to the streets on Saturdays in recent months, but whose numbers have dipped.
“I am not mixing up the rioters (casseurs) with the large majority of yellow vests, who are no longer demonstrating…,” he said.
“All those who are participating in these undeclared demonstrations are complicit. Their only cause is violence.”
As well as the Champs-Elysées in Paris the PM said demos could also be banned in Place Pey-Berland in Bordeaux and the Place du Capitole in Toulouse which have also witnessed violence in recent months.
The PM also announced that the fine for turning up to an undeclared demo – which currently stands at €38 – will be increased to 135 euros.
While the public’s safety remains a priority, “the outburst of violence justifies a firm (police) response,” Philippe told France 2 television on Monday evening.
A €1.5 million aid package will be made available for those businesses in the greater Paris region who have been targeted over the last three months of demonstrations.
The announcements was made after an emergency meeting at the Elysees Palace on Monday.
Business owners on the iconic Champs-Elysees were fuming Monday as President Emmanuel Macron met with Philippe, Castaner and other top officials to weigh their response to an 18th consecutive Saturday of demonstrations.
Some 5,000 police were deployed in the capital on Saturday, far outnumbering the several hundred black-clad rioters who caused havoc for more than seven hours on the capital’s most famous boulevard.
TV footage often showed officers standing in formation while the protesters burned and pillaged dozens of stores.
Some have called for French police to be far more active in tackling troublemakers.
“You have to take responsibility and engage, with the possibility that people will get hurt,” said Frederic Lagache of the Alliance police union on Monday.
For decades, French authorities have usually preferred the opposite, controlling mass protests with tear gas and rubber bullets while avoiding physical confrontation between police and large groups, experts say.
Although some protesters have been injured by the rubber bullets, so far nobody has been killed in clashes with police, but officials say the risk would increase if officers charged the hostile crowds.
“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 at France’s Cesdip law enforcement research institute.
But critics say the government needs to drastically rethink its approach for stamping out the rioting.
“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.”