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01.07.2019 Europe

French police investigate agressive evacuation of environmentalists in Paris

By Zeenat Hansrod - RFI
(REUTERS/Charles Platiau)
LISTEN JUL 1, 2019
(REUTERS/Charles Platiau)

French Interior minister, Christophe Castaner, has called for an investigation into the controversial evacuation of environmental campaigners in Paris. Riot police teargassed "Extinction Rebellion" protesters who were blocking the Pont de Sully in the city centre last Friday.

At the request of the minister of Interior, the riot police (CRS, Compagnie Républicaines des Sécurité) and the police chief (préfet de police) are to submit a report on the “modalities” leading to the evacuation of demonstrators “in order to restore traffic” in the centre of Paris.

Last Friday, June 28, around 300 environmental campaigners from the Extinction Rebellion group blocked the Sully bridge, a major crossing on the Seine river near Notre-Dame Cathedral, in a sit-in. They were demanding that the French government declare a climate emergency and take necessary action to avert planetary catastrophe.

Minister Castaner said that the French CRS riot police used loudspeakers asking them to move. Castaner added that the “very radical” demonstrators refused the orders and that the riot police had no choice but to remove them one by one.

France's minister for the environment François de Rugy, said that he watched a video of the whole incident and that the use of tear gas was justified. The ruling LREM (La République en Marche) party MP, Barbara Pompili said she was “shocked” by the images and hoped the investigation will “shed a light on what happened.”

The environmental campaigner and Tomorrow documentary filmmaker, Cyril Dion, announced that he has decided to turn down a Knight of the National Order of Merit award because of the disproportionate use of force on the Sully bridge.

French police and Extinction Rebellion
The Extinction Rebellion movement or XR made the headlines last April when it shut down major streets around London for over a week to demand a response to global warming. XR has organised civil disobedience campaigns across Europe to force governments and MPs to take action against the threats of climate change.

One of the activists said that French police arrived around 1pm local time and started evacuating the protesters 15 minutes later. Riot police reportedly decided to use tear gas because the protestors kept returning to the scene.

“This is when they decided to pepper spray us at close range, at 20 centimetres from our face. The evacuation lasted around 40 to 45 minutes. At around 2pm, traffic on the bridge was back to normal,” according to the activist.

Images of the incident circulated on social media triggering international reaction. 16-year-old Swedish Greta Thunberg, who started the School Strike for Climate movement, said on social media: "Watch this video and ask yourself; who is defending who?". The US-based Sunrise Movement praised the protestors for “putting their bodies on the line for climate justice.”

(With AFP)