New protests in France over security law

Paris: Tens of thousands of protesters turned out in dozens of French cities Saturday against a security bill they say will restrict the filming and publicising of images of police brutality, but also to protest the restrictions imposed against the coronavirus.

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Those joining the demonstrations included activists from the “yellow vests” movement that gripped France for more than a year before the pandemic restricted large-scale protests.

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Others were there to stand up for the cultural sector, hit hard by the restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

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Also among the protesters were young people calling for the right to hold rave parties such as the one in Brittany that attracted 2,400 at the start of the year.

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“I have two reasons for coming today – the comprehensive security law and also to support culture,” said Kim, a 24-year-old civil service intern.

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“Lots of stores are open, the metro is packed, yet cultural sites are closed, even though we can apply protective measures” against the coronavirus, she said.

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The demonstrators are protesting draft legislation that would ban filming police activities, which the ruling LREM party of President Emmanuel Macron has said it would rewrite.

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But people are also protesting the use of surveillance tools such as drones and pedestrian cameras.

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Footage of white police beating up a black music producer in his Paris studio on November 21 has fuelled anger over the legislation, condemned by many as signalling a swing to the right by Macron.

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Numbers down

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According to interior ministry figures, 32,077 people turned out to protest across France, significantly down on the 133,000 they said attended the largest protest against the measures, back in November – although organisers put the true turnout then at more than half a million people.

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Organisers put the fall in numbers down to the coronavirus restrictions, poor weather and the fact that this was just the latest in a long series of such protests.

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France has recorded 75,000 deaths from coronavirus since the outbreak began and the country is bracing for another possible lockdown.

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In Paris, the large Place de la Republique was half full, AFP journalists reported, while around 3,000 people gathered in Montpellier, southern France.

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At around 5 pm, an hour before the start of the overnight 6-6 curfew now in place as a measure against the coronavirus, clashes broke out between a group of around 50 youths and police.

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After being pelted with projectiles, the police used water cannon to clear the square. The Paris prosecutors office said 26 people had been detained.

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Hundreds turned out for similar rallies in other cities.

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The government argues that the proposed law is needed because police officers have become the targets of attacks and calls for violence against them on social media.

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But French media say a “new national plan of law enforcement” is being used to limit media coverage of demonstrations.

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The proposed security law, which has already been approved by the National Assembly, is to be examined by the Senate, France’s upper parliamentary chamber, in March.

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