Police clashed with hundreds of protesting youths in two separate cities in France Saturday. The current situation arose from last week’s death of 21-year-old Remi Fraisse while opposing the construction of a dam near Toulouse, 400 miles south of Paris. Tensions between the French youths and police forces have been continually increasing recently, after a period of months where mostly peaceful protests have been organizing around construction projects in France.
In Nantes, where opposition has been actively continuing against the construction of a new airport for at least six years, yesterday’s violent protests saw 16 people arrested as two protesters and two police officers, one apparently burned by acid, were injured. An even greater disturbance had occurred there this past February, when a contingent of nearly 1,000 broke off from a peaceful march to confront riot police. Eight police officers had been injured in that instance, and 10 protesters arrested.
The other of yesterday’s riots happened in Toulouse, where one police officer was injured, and eight protesters arrested. Smaller disturbances happened with no apparent injuries in the cities of Lille, Bordeaux and Avignon.
The event in which Fraisse had been killed was a protest near the Sivens forest, in the southwestern region of France. A report from Vice News contained a description of that day’s events given by a protester who preferred to be known simply as “Émilien.” Apparently as many as 5,000 protesters were there opposing a dam project peacefully when a group of approximately 100 youths, dressed in black and covering their faces with masks, began clashing with French riot police, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails. Officers responded with tear gas and stun grenades as the Molotov cocktails a hilly area on fire. It was after the melee cleared that French law enforcement found the body of Fraisse, whose later autopsy revealed had been killed by a wound on his back caused by an explosion of some kind. Further tests are being conducted to determine whether it was the result of a stun grenade used by riot police.
French President Francois Hollande responded to Fraisse’ death this past Tuesday by calling for an investigation, though events since then seem to indicate that his announcement has had little effect. There also appears to be a degree of political infighting among current and former officials, with Hollande’s former Ecology Minister Cecile Duflot calling the entire series of events “an indelible stain on the action of this government.” French Member of the European Parliament Jose Bove made a verbal indictment against the Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve that the loss of life was because of the riot police deployed to the protest. Cazeneuve responded, saying that the issue was being politicized, and that investigations were still ongoing.
The heated remarks do seem to indicate an element of political drama mixed in to the tragedy. Parliamentary elections in France at the end of last September saw the French Senate swing conservative, possibly spurring an increased intensity of the protests. There seemed to be no further reports regarding the mention of the black-dressed provocateurs who appeared at the protest before Fraisse’ death, leaving that piece a mystery, as France considers the next step in resolving their clashes between the youth and Police.
by Brian Whittemore
The Washington Post
Photo by Fabian Bromann – flickr License
Inset Photo by jyc1 – flickr License