Paris mayor: ‘Police violence makes protest difficult’

Mayor Anne Hidalgo said that violence, including from police, had stopped people from exercising their right to protest at the weekend

The mayor of Paris has said that it is “becoming difficult to protest” in Paris and has condemned the police violence that was seen during protests against climate change and pension reform last weekend.

Anne Hidalgo, who was at the climate change march in the city on Saturday September 21, said that although she did not agree with violent protesters, the “police presence” was “not normal”.

She said she - as well as other cross-party representatives - would hear from police head, Didier Lallement, during the next Conseil de Paris council meeting.

Speaking to news radio FranceInter, Ms Hidalgo said: “We cannot live in a society where there is no longer any possible dialogue. I obviously condemn this violence which led to a far-from-normal police presence, which, effectively, dissuaded people [from protesting].

“On Saturday, many parents with children left - as I did - as soon as we started to feel the first tear gas."

The mayor said she had also “received an enormous number of calls” from peaceful protesters who had been stopped from leaving the protest after the release of tear gas.

This level of tension and fear led to a much reduced number of people turning out for the climate change march in Paris, she added.

Organisers counted 50,000 people, and another independent count put the number at just 15,200. This was in comparison to the 270,000 people seen for a similar, sister march in Berlin.

Ms Hidalgo said that this was “without a doubt” due to “fear of violence linked to these protests by what are basically black blocs, with broken windows, and extremely violent police movement”.

First deputy mayor, Emmanuel Grégoire, also condemned the “disproportionate” police presence at the weekend, and said that it had been done “without discussion or information from the police”.

Ms Hidalgo and Mr Grégoire also condemned the closure of certain central Metro stations in the capital in connection with the protests.

This had stopped people from being able to travel freely on a weekend that coincided with the national heritage holidays, les Journées du Patrimoine, and the no-car, Journée Sans Voiture, Ms Hidalgo said.

Mr Grégoire condemned the actions of police head Mr Lallement, and added: “It cannot continue like this.”

He said: “On Sunday morning, we saw “the bunkerisation” of the centre of the capital, with anti-riot barriers and several Metro stations closed. The head of police, who thinks he is alone in the world, demonstrably kept us [the mayor’s office] in the dark, considering us to be a negligible entity.

“That is inconceivable, and a historic first in relations between the head of police and Mayor of Paris. This police head, who came to Paris with a reputation...is walking all over democratic representation.”

Police said that 7,500 law enforcement officers were present across the capital in total, with 163 arrests made on Saturday after some violent protesters smashed windows and torched a number of vehicles.

Water cannon and armoured vehicles were prepared in anticipation of violence, and tear gas was used in many central sites, including down the Champs-Elysées.

Yet, most of the protesters claimed to be non-violent, with the majority there to protest against climate change, and others coming out against proposed pension reform.

Many protest organisations, including Greenpeace France, condemned the situation, and said it “denounced the sending of tear gas into non-violent protesters and their families”.

It added that “the conditions of a non-violent march had not been met”.

Earlier, President Emmanuel Macron had called “for calm”, while on the day, minister for the interior Christophe Castaner thanked law enforcement services for “keeping order and guaranteeing free expression”, and said that “violent individuals” had been “arrested”.

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