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New anti-violence laws do not target Yellow Vests - Interior Minister

Gilets Jaunes Angers
Gilets Jaunes Angers REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

France's interior minister Christophe Castener addresses assembly members and plays down the more controversial elements within his proposed bill, aimed at limiting violent clashes during street demonstrations.

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Speaking on Tuesday, interior minister Castener hoped to convince deputies at the French National Assembly that his proposals aim to curtail the actions of so-called “Casseurs”, and are not aimed at restricting the Yellow Vest Movement's right to protest.

“Les Casseurs”, literally meaning “breakers”, infamously infiltrate protest marches in France with the aim of inciting violence, attacking the authorities and damaging property.

In his address to a parliamentary legal commission, Castener added that the proposed law is not in reaction to current circumstances but a call for common sense. He also underlined that the bill had been presented by senators from the opposition centre-right Républicains party, on November 17th, well before the “Yellow Vest” protests began.

What are the main worries?

French MPs skeptical of the law, which is presented to the parliamentary commission this Wednesday, say Article 2 of the proposal paves the way for the government to ban demonstrations outright, along the lines of existing laws to prevent hooliganism at sports stadiums.

Another issue that has been brought to the fore is the implementation of security perimetres that would allow the security services to search people wishing to attend street protests for weapons.  

The interior minister maintains that the options being tabled should be seen as a means to respond swiftly to street violence and send a strong message to those who seek to cause disruption.

In response to doubts over potential body searches of demonstrators, Castener reminded MPs that this measure could be adopted in the context of an anti-terrorism legislation already in place since autumn 2017.

Reactions from both Left and Right

For now, a majority of French lawmakers appear to remain skeptical of the new legislation. Speaking on Wednesday, the spokesperson of the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), Olivier Besancenot said the laws would give President Emmanuel Macron a “legal arsenal” against political opponents that could eventually fall into the hands of Marine Le Pen, if the far-right National Rally were to win the next round of parliamentary and presidential elections in 2022.

Meanwhile, Guillaume Larrivé from the opposition Républicains party implicitly supported Castener’s text, but indicated that the current emergency doesn’t necessarily need a change in legislation, but called for a restructuring of security and police operations.

Although without a designated leader or spokesperson, “Yellow Vest” protesters have consistently denounced any correlation between the “Yellow Vest” movement and the so-called “Casseurs”.

The new legislation is due to be submitted to the National Assembly on 29 January.

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