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France

Gilets jaunes injuries spark legal challenge to police

Channel News Asia, Jan 31

A human rights group and a major trade union went to France's top administrative court on Wednesday (Jan 30) seeking a ban on riot police use of rubber bullets, which are blamed for injuring dozens of "yellow vest" protesters.

The police have drawn fire over their repeated use of rubber bullets to restore order during ten weeks of anti-government protests, which have repeatedly ended in rioting.

Dozens of people have been seriously injured, with the protesters, rights groups and French media pinning the blame for most of the injuries on the 40mm rubber projectiles.

The Rights League and the CGT union have lodged a case at the Council of State, the country's highest administrative court, after failing with an petition earlier this month at a lower administrative court.

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The weapon is prohibited in most western European countries.

The government has defended the use of rubber bullets and stun grenades as necessary to guard against violent elements within the yellow vests' ranks who have repeatedly attacked security forces.

The Desarmons-Les (Disarm Them) collective, which campaigns against police violence, claims 20 protesters have lost an eye.

The collective's website shows pictures of 13 people with eye injuries. Twelve were hit by rubber bullets and the other by a stun grenade, it says.

The debate over police weapons flared up again at the weekend after a yellow-vest leader was badly injured in the eye while filming a protest in Paris.

Jerome Rodrigues claimed he was hit by a rubber bullet during clashes at the Bastille square, but junior interior minister Laurent Nunez said there was "no indication" that his facial injuries were caused by a rubber projectile.

Rodrigues said he was also hit in the foot by a stun grenade.

Two investigations are underway into the incident, which occurred as police for the first time wore body cameras to record the circumstances in which they use the "defence ball launchers" (LBDs) that shoot the rubber rounds.

Many police officers say the weapons are necessary.

"We're being attacked with glass bottles, cinder blocks, acid and bolts. An LBD is the weapon that scares people. If they took them away from us, no officer will want to work during the protests," a police source told AFP earlier this month.

The "yellow vest" movement, which erupted in mid-November over fuel taxes, quickly snowballed into a widespread revolt over President Emmanuel Macron's pro-business economic policies and his aloof governing style, seen as out of touch with rural and small-town France.

Tens of thousands of people wearing luminous road safety vests have taken part in protests on 11 consecutive Saturdays.

But their numbers have dipped in recent weeks after Macron announced a series of measures to assist pensioners and the working poor and launched two months of countrywide debates to allow people to vent their anger.

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