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New French PM pledges support for police in violence-hit Dijon

rench Prime minister Jean Castex (L) addresses police officers next to French interior Gerard Darmanin (R) during a visit at Dijon's police headquarters, on July 10, 2020.
rench Prime minister Jean Castex (L) addresses police officers next to French interior Gerard Darmanin (R) during a visit at Dijon's police headquarters, on July 10, 2020. AFP - PHILIPPE DESMAZES

France's new prime minister Jean Castex has promised to put 20 extra officers on the ground in Dijon after complaints about a lack of police presence during gang violence there last month. On a visit to the eastern city, Castex praised the courage of security forces and reassured them of the government's support.

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"I came to Dijon to express the government's full support to security forces in the constant struggle they face in dealing with this type of brawl," Castex said Friday, nearly one month after clashes between rival gangs that left several injured.

Unrest broke out in Dijon on 12 June when dozens of Chechen youths from across France descended on the gritty suburb of Gresilles to avenge an attack on a Chechen teenager, blamed on drug traffickers.

The Chechens focused their retaliation against the Maghreb community in the low-income district of Gresilles, with one police source quoting a Chechen member as saying they had come “to clean things up”.

Scenes of clashes, including men brandishing what appeared to be assault rifles, shocked the country and prompted questions about whether security forces had done enough to stop the fighting.

The government eventually sent in police reinforcements to quell the violence.

Prime Minister Jean Castex said he was outraged by the "inadmissible behaviour" in Dijon, usually a placid city, and vowed to "support the action and fight against any form of violence and communitarianism that could threaten the values of the Republic".

Rebuilding relations with police

The prime minister said that he wished to send a message of assurance, promising to send around twenty extra officers to Dijon from September, adding that "beyond nice words, it is the demonstration of our commitment".

Castex was accompanied to Dijon by his new Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin for his second meeting in a week with police officers.

On Sunday, two days after his appointment as prime minister, he visited police headquarters in Seine-Saint-Denis on the outskirts of Paris.

Analysts see Castex's overtures to the police as the government's attempt to rebuild relations with security forces that have been soured by the current racism debate.

Police officers protested last month against new plans to ban chokeholds after global protests over George Floyd’s death in the US. French police have also taken issue with any suggestion of systemic racism in their ranks, accusing the government of not defending it against the claims.

In a bid to reassure security officers, the prime minister on Friday told them: "You are at the heart of the republican and democratic pact. If public order breaks down, if secularism is undermined...the Republic will not function. We are here to ensure that it functions better."

Rape allegations

Castex also renewed support to his Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, currently the target of feminist ire over allegations of rape. 

The minister "will put all his intelligence, all his determination and I would even say, he will bring affection to all of the women and men who make up the public service that you represent," Castex insisted.

Several demonstrations were planned Friday to contest Darmanin's appointment as interior minister, as well as that of Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti, who previously openly criticised the #MeToo movement.

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