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France

French Senate backs controversial anti-rioters bill

media Vandals could be liable for damage to property under new law. AFP PHOTO THOMAS SAMSON

The French Senate has voted in favour of a controversial draft anti-rioters law that the constitutional council will now examine at the request of President Macron.

The Lower House recently backed the bill but only after rowdy debates and record abstentions from some members of Macron’s ruling LREM party.

President Macron announced on Monday that he is to refer the draft legislation to France’s constitutional court for examination.

Such a move pre-empts any action from the bill’s opponents, which might well have included rebels from his own party.

What are the key elements of the bill?

Police will be authorised to search bags and vehicles in and around demo areas for objects that might be weapons.

Chiefs of police will have authority to ban people who have committed violent acts towards people or property from protests. Under current law, only one judge has this power and only people with previous convictions can be banned.

In exceptional circumstances, a ban might apply to any protest anywhere in France for up to a month.

MPs rejected idea of a national register of people banned from protest marches – instead those banned will feature on a register of wanted people but only for the duration of their ban.

It will become an offence to cover the face (wholly or partly), punishable by imprisonment or fines of up to 15000 euros.

The state can demand that perpetrators pay for any damage caused.

What do its supporters and critics say?

Interior minister Christophe Castaner says the anti-rioters law is aimed at a small minority of thugs who are imperilling to the right to protest, declaring that “there is no place for fear in demonstrations".

The international human rights organisation Amnesty International has condemned it.

The group says in a statement that the French government, through police chiefs, will be able to ban people from demonstrations on extremely vague grounds, away from judicial control.

Amnesty also worries that protestors wishing to protect themselves from tear gas with gas masks might be liable for arrest.

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