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France

Yellow Vests come out on Sunday to denounce police brutality

media A French police officer aims a Defence Ball Launcher (LBD) at a crowd of Yellow Vest protesters at place de la Bastille in central Paris, 12 January 2019 Ludovic MARIN / AFP

A day after the low turnout of their Act 29 protests, France's Yellow Vests were back on the streets to denounce police violence, at the request of a group called Mutilated to set the Example, whose members say they have experienced it first-hand.

Around 30 protesters have lost eyes or hands during clashes with police over the past six months, putting the government under growing pressure to ban controversial weapons like other EU countries.

Hundreds of Yellow Vests gathered at Place de la Bastille in central Paris on Sunday, brandishing slogans such as, 'Stop maiming' or 'Ban flash balls.'

Among the crowds, were protesters who have been disfigured by these same controversial weapons, including Jerome Rodrigues, one of the leaders of the movement, blinded in an eye at an authorised demonstration in January.

In a press release, the group Mutilated to set the Example, or Mutilés pour l'exemple, made up of 38 members, wrote that "the horror of our lives is such that we demand justice now and an end to the use of sub-lethal weapons."

They have in their sights the so-called Defence Ball Launchers (LBDs), that the country’s rights ombudsman, Jacques Toubon, has already said should be banned.

However, protestors have also urged the government to ban so-called “dispersal” grenades, which contain a dose of TNT explosive, which France is alone in using in Europe.

Under fire

France's increasingly tough policing of protests has drawn criticism from the United Nations and the European Union.

According to the group Mutilated to set the Example, some 24 people have lost an eye and five others their hands since November when the protests began.

The interior ministry, meanwhile, put the number of people who sustained "irremediable damage to the eye" at ten from among the 2,200 Yellow Vests injured.

Police unions however point out that the police too have sustained eye and other serious injuries.

This notwithstanding, the high number of head injuries sustained by protesters, and both amateur and professional videos posted on the Internet, have shone a harsh spotlight on the police's methods of maintaining law and order.

The inspector general for the French police has referred 78 incidents for investigation. And on Friday, Paris prosecutor Rémy Heitz said policemen and gendarmes who had used “unfounded” or “disproportionate” force on protesters would face trial.

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