France bids to crack down on Yellow Vest-related violence

Thursday, 2019-02-07 12:30:18
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French Gendarmes stand near a fire during a demonstration of the Yellow Vest movement in Strasbourg, France, January 12, 2019. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO – The Yellow Vest protest movement in France has been underway over the past three months with complicated developments after many marches turned into riots. In an effort to prevent such a harmful “yellow wave”, the French parliament has passed a bill, called “anti-casseurs” (anti-hooligan) law. The move shows that the French authorities are being more aggressive in fighting riots and re-establishing order nationwide.

Yellow Vest protests in France have been taking place for more than 12 weeks. In particular, thousands of demonstrators marched every Wednesday in Paris and a number of other major cities against President Emmanuel Macron’s government. Sources from the French and European media stated that on February 5, about 300,000 people joined in protests nationwide, including 30,000 in the capital of Paris alone. The protests featured the participation of representatives from many trade unions, members of the La France Insoumise (Unsubmissive France) Party and the Yellow Vest movement. The protesters, opposed to the government’s policies, condemned police violence against protesters and blocked many areas across the country, including a number of toll stations located on major highways. The wave of Yellow Vest protests paralysed traffic flows in Paris and surrounding areas on many occasions. Some classes have had to be cancelled because the teachers joined the strike. In some previous protests, some Yellow Vest participants have committed violent acts, destroyed public assets, burned cars, smashed stores and made use of the chaos for looting.

Aimed at curbing violent protests, France’s parliament passed the “anti-casseurs” law on February 5, with 387 votes in favor, 92 votes against and 74 blank votes. The law allows police forces to check personal belongings of people present at protest sites and surrounding areas; search vehicles, such as cars, to detect potential weapons which could be used for smashing things and causing violence; and set up a list of people who are likely to cause violence and prohibit these people from participating in protests. According to the bill, violation cases could be imposed with fines of up to EUR15,000 and one-year imprisonment.

As soon as the content of the bill was announced, it faced a lot of criticisms arguing that the law’s provisions restricted the freedom of French citizens, as well as the people’s right to protest. Thousands of French people poured down streets on Tuesday to protest the bill. However, in the face of the aforementioned criticism wave, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner affirmed: “This is not a law to suppress but to protect the people’s right to protest”. The French media said that the aforementioned bill of the government will be submitted to the French Senate in March, and if passed by the Senate, the law will take effect in the next few months.

Along with the promulgation of the bill, the Council of State, France’s leading legal advisory body, affirmed the allowance of anti-riot police to use rubber bullets in disbanding the protest crowds. Earlier, a number of organisations in France, including the French Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), France’s labour union federation, and the Human Rights League of France, called for a ban on anti-riot police from using rubber bullets which, it said, could cause serious injury in Yellow Vest protests.

The French government has been forced to resort to the aforementioned aggressive solutions in order to prevent the protest wave which is seriously threatening French security, politics and economy. According to official data from the French government, about 1,000 police officers and more than 1,700 protesters have been injured since the start of anti-government protests in mid-November 2018. Stemming from a protest wave against the policy on increasing fuel prices, the Yellow Vest movement has spread and developed into a protest campaign against government policies. The French government gave in by abolishing the policy to raise fuel taxes, announcing a EUR10 billion salary increase package and reducing taxes for low-income people or retirees. However, the Yellow Vest side has yet to go down the ladders and is still calling for policy changes in favour of the group of low-income earners. To date, the Yellow Vest movement has also spread to many other European countries such as Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands, threatening to cause economic and political uncertainties.

In this context, President Macron’s administration implementing stronger measures to prevent extremists from taking advantage of protests to cause uncertainties and riots is necessary. However, it is not enough to rely on just strong measures to stop the Yellow Vest movement. The reality requires that President Macron and partners continue to adjust policies and further balance the interests between all components of the society to foster hopes of lifting France out of the current unrest.