Last Saturday was relatively calm here in France. The gilets jaunes or Yellow Vest demonstrators were out in force for week 19 of their protest movement. But the police were out in even greater force. And Paris had a new police chief in action for the first time.
There were clashes here and there, an unfortunate woman in her seventies got her skull fractured in Nice.
She fell in the confusion as police attempted to clear the southern city's Garibaldi Square, from which demonstrators had been banned. Her condition is described as “stable”. Her family has promised to take legal action against the police, claiming that they over-reacted to an otherwise peaceful protest.
In an interview in this morning's local paper Nice Matin, President Emmanuel Macron warns that the gilets jaunes are far from running out of steam.
“We're now dealing with extremists from both the political left and the right,” says the French leader, “people of an extraordinary violence who are determined to bring about chaos. We have to remain on our guard and show no weakness.”
Macron did express sympathy for the injured woman, saying he wished her a speedy recovery.
“When you are fragile, when you risk being knocked over,” the president said of the injured 73-year-old trade union activist, feminist and anti-racist, “you do not show up at a banned demonstration.
“I hope she gets better soon, and that she behaves more wisely in the future,” said Emmanuel Macron.
Back to the future for Act XX
Looking forward to next weekend, the protestors have already applied for permission to demonstrate in central Paris, on streets like the fancy Champs-Elysées, from which they were banned last Saturday.
The decision on that application will be made by the capital city's new police chief, Didier Lallement, who was given the top job in the wake of the violence and destruction which saw landmark venues like the Longchamps bag shop, PSG's shirt salesroom and Fouquet's top class nosh emporium savaged, ravaged and burnt out nine days ago.
Left-leaning paper Libération publishes a profile of Lallement, and he comes across as one tough dude. He's skinny, serious, 63 and wears glasses. He looks like the kind of adult who got sand kicked in his face when he was a kid at the beach.
Libération reports that there were loud cheers in the police headquarters in Bordeaux when Lallement's promotion to Paris was announced. They weren't delighted for Didier, suggests Libé, they were delighted for themselves. They were getting rid of an unloved boss who addressed his Bordeaux colleagues on his first day on the job saying, “You've heard I have a tough reputation? Well it's nothing compared to the reality.”
Now the wimpy kid with the tougher than tough reputation is prefect of the Paris police.
The man is described by his ex-colleagues as “pitiless,” “an iron man,” “cold,” “a mad bastard,” “a terrorist,” “the incarnation of inflexibility”.
He rarely even bothers to say hello to the people he works with.
If the government has chosen Lallement for the Paris job, it's not for his kindness and charm.
What Didier will do next . . .
Libération says the new man has two major tasks.
The first is to ensure that Paris stays calm on shopping Saturdays. The second is to reform a police force established as a virtual state within the state by Napoléon in 1800.
The Paris police have enormous autonomy. They have their own legal wing, their own intelligence service, a division for dealing with illegal migrants. Those are expensive and jealously guarded replicas of national institutions; Lallement will be expected to bring a bit of law, order and cost-cutting to the business of law and order in Paris. But he may find a few police officers blocking his way. We wish them luck.
As for last weekend, the police policy of containment and control seems to have worked well. But that approach had already successfully been used under Michel Delpuech, the man whose job Lallement takes up.
There are serious questions to be answered about the use by French security personnel of various non-lethal weapons for crowd control. Libération fears that the tough stance of the new man at the helm will lead to more injuries and mutilations.
Under Didier Lallement's reign in Bordeaux, there were several extremely violent clashes between police and protestors. Two demonstrators lost hands and several others were seriously injured by rubber bullets.
Loïc Prud'homme, the French MP who claims to have been beaten up by police in Bordeaux earlier this month, says Lallement's appointment is an unearned bonus for “a violent man who failed in Bordeaux”.