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French government fights protester’s death cover-up accusations

media The site of the planned Sivens dam

The French government was on the defensive on Thursday after the publication of police recordings showing that gendarmes were aware that an anti-dam protester had died after they fired stun grenades during a demonstration in southern France last month.

France's Green Party on Wednesday demanded answers after Le Monde newspaper and the Médiapart website published transcripts of messages between panicked gendarmes as they fired the grenades against an aggressive crowd and then found that a protester had died.

The police and government did not confirm the death of 21-year-old Rémi Fraisse until 48 hours later but the transcripts show that the officers called emergency services to remove the body and appeared to believe he had been killed by a grenade.

“The guy’s dead,” one of them told colleagues. “This is serious. They mustn’t know.”

Although it is unclear who “they” are in the final sentence of the quote, the media who broke the story takes it as a reference to the other demonstrators.

Members of the Green Party, which has opposed the now-suspended dam project, renewed earlier calls for the government to come clean about what it knew about the incident and when.

On Thursday Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve denied having seen the transcripts and said they had not been given to the investigators.

Earlier government spokesperson Stéphane Le Foll hit back, implying they were trying to make political capital out of the case and assuring an interviewer on iTélé that the judicial process would be “transparent”.

Asked if the authorities had tried to cover up the killing, he replied, “In the end, will anything be hidden?”

“Perhaps precautions were taken to avoid people saying any old thing, to let the legal system express itself,” he said. “There is transparency and there will be.”

 Several protests over Fraisse's death have turned violent in the last few weeks.

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