Gilets jaunes leader arrested as protesters face fines

The arrest of a key leader of the gilets jaunes movement has sent “a very bad signal” to the public, protest leaders have said, amid reports that some groups are now being threatened with high fines.

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Éric Drouet, who has been recognised as one of the leaders of the ongoing movement, remains in police custody today (Thursday Jan 3). He was arrested in Paris yesterday evening (video below), accused of taking part in a non-authorised protest.

The gathering near Place de la Concorde was reportedly intended to pay homage to the people who have been killed or injured since the beginning of the gilets jaunes movement in November. Around 50 people gathered to light candles in their honour.

Yet, Mr Drouet was taken into police custody, while others at the event - including 16 women - said they had been stopped by police and asked for proof of identity. When they refused, they too were arrested.

This is the second time Mr Drouet has been arrested during the protest campaign; on December 22 he was accused of wearing an illegal “truncheon-style weapon” and for “participating in a group intending to commit violence or damage”.

Kamel Amriou, president of the gilets jaunes group Mouvement Citoyens, has condemned this latest arrest as “disproportionate” and demanded the release of Mr Drouet “as fast as possible”.

He said: “[This is] a bad start [to the year] that sends a very bad signal to the population, whether they are gilets jaunes or not…It shows that we are in a repressive era that is damaging to our democracy. I do not believe they are going to shut people up. This risks the opposite effect.”

Leader of opposition party La France Insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, has tweeted that the arrest of Mr Drouet is an “abuse of power” by police, who he said are now “targeting and harassing” gilets jaunes.

The arrest comes as a group of gilets jaunes on roundabouts near Marseille (Bouches-du-Rhône, ‎Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) claimed that police had threatened them with fines of €1,500-€3,000 for “illegal occupation of the public highway without authorisation”.

A protester, Thierry Dechaume, who is not said to have a history of violence, said that a gendarme had approached and warned him as he was peacefully occupying a roundabout near the commune of Rove.

The five-strong group then decided to abandon their post for the day, rather than risk fines.

Mr Dechaume said: “Roundabouts are the only place left in which we can make our movement visible. The government has given authorisation to criminalise us and judge us individually. It is a way of making the gilets jaunes shut up.”

Yet, neither the local police nor the gendarmerie confirmed that they have authorised this type of intervention from their officers, nor been instructed to act.

One gendarmerie commander in the Var said that the law actually states far more severe penalties than those mentioned for “obstructing traffic flow”, including up to two years in prison, and a fine of up to €4,500.

So far, no-one appears to have been handed such a punishment during a protest, but some gilets jaunes near Marseille have said that gendarmerie officers had threatened them with arrest and similar fines.

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