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France probes case of man in coma after violent water reservoir protest

By RFI
France AFP - PASCAL LACHENAUD
WED, 29 MAR 2023 LISTEN
AFP - PASCAL LACHENAUD

French prosecutors are to investigate the conditions under which a man was seriously injured at a demonstration against the construction of a reservoir in the west of the country, after his family filed a criminal complaint.

The 32-year-old has been fighting for his life in a coma since Saturday's thousands-strong environmental protest against the construction of an irrigation reservoir in Sainte-Soline, in the western Deux-Sèvres region.

His parents have filed a complaint alleging attempted murder. They also claim that ambulance services and medical assistance were prevented from reaching their son.

Protest organisers on Tuesday alleged that the man, from the southwestern city of Toulouse, was seriously injured when he was struck in the head by a tear gas grenade fired by police.

"People close to him are determined to bear witness and uncover the truth about what happened," they added.

The case is being investigated by military prosecutors in the western city of Rennes who have jurisdiction over France's gendarmes -- police officers belonging to the armed forces.

A second protester is also in a coma, from injuries sustained on Saturday. His family came forward late Wednesday to file a legal complaint, represented by the same lawyer as the first man.

Violent scenes of Saturday's clashes between around 5,000 protesters and 3,200 police in the open fields made headlines over the weekend.

Unprecedented violence

Using helicopters, armoured vehicles and water cannon, security forces fired thousands of tear gas grenades and dozens of other projectiles in a response the DGGN police authority has described as "proportionate to the level of threat".

Authorities say officers were faced with "an unprecedented explosion of violence" and targeted with Molotov cocktails and fireworks.

But Human Rights League (LDH) observers on the scene said police made "unrestrained and indiscriminate use of force" against all the demonstrators, rather than targeting violent groups or individuals.

Journalists from French news agency AFP saw police begin using tear gas as soon as the marchers arrived.

Prosecutors in nearby Niort counted 47 wounded police and seven demonstrators requiring medical aid, including two in danger for their lives.

Delay in first aid access

Protest organisers complained of 200 wounded, 40 seriously, including one person who lost an eye.

In an audio recording published by daily newspaper Le Monde, a member of the ambulance service claims that "commanders on the ground" were holding them back from the scene, without identifying individuals.

The service said on Twitter on Tuesday that "sending an ambulance with oxygen into an area with clashes is not recommended given the risk of explosion".

Deux-Sèvres' prefect -- the top government official in the region -- wrote in a Tuesday report to the interior ministry that it was "very difficult" for ambulances to reach wounded demonstrators as "the clashes had not stopped or were starting again".

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has responded to the clashes by putting in motion the process to ban one of the associations that organised the protests.

(With AFP)

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