Violence on streets of Paris as police brutality protests descend into chaos

Violent clashes have broken out in Paris during protests against new security legislation.

Hundreds of black-clad demonstrators fought with riot police at the end of a rally against a new law which would restrict the publication of officers’ faces. 

Masked protesters launched fireworks at police lines, put up barricades and threw stones before smashing shop windows and setting cars and a cafe on fire.

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowds and used a water cannon in the early evening on remaining groups of protesters on Place de la Bastille.

The interior ministry said it had counted 46,000 protesters in Paris. Police said they had made nine arrests. Thousands of people also marched in Lille, Rennes, Strasbourg and other cities.

Protest organisers said some 500,000 joined nationwide, including 200,000 in the capital.

The protests follow the publication this week of CCTV footage of the minutes-long beating of Black music producer Michel Zecler by three police officers in Paris on Nov. 21.

The incident has also fanned anger about a draft law that is seen as curbing the right of journalists to report on police brutality.

The bill would make it a crime to circulate images of police officers in certain circumstances, which opponents say would limit press freedom.

Many protesters carried placards with slogans like ‘Who will protect us from the police’, ‘Stop police violence’ and ‘Democracy bludgeoned’.

The images of Mr Zecler being beaten have circulated widely on social media and in the French and foreign press. President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday the images were shameful for France.

Four police officers are being held for questioning as part of an investigation into the beating.

The journalists’ organisations and civil liberty groups who organised the marches were joined by far-left militants, environmental activists and yellow vest protesters.

‘What is happening in Paris is extremely worrying and we cannot let this pass. I have spent two years with the yellow vests and I have seen all the violence,’ demonstrator Caroline Schatz said at the Paris march.

Mohamed Magassa 35, who works in a reception centre for minors said: ‘We have felt for a long time to have been the victim of institutionalised racism from the police. But now we feel that this week all of France has woken up.’

France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin condemned ‘unacceptable’ violence against the police, saying 37 members of the security forces had been injured nationwide.

For critics, the legislation is further evidence of a slide to the right by French president Emmanuel Macron, who came to power in 2017 as a centrist promising liberal reform of France.

The images of the beating of Mr Zecler emerged days after the police were already under fire over the forcible removal of a migrant camp in central Paris.

A series of high-profile cases against police officers over mistreatment of black or Arab citizens has raised accusations of institutionalised racism. The force has insisted violations are the fault of isolated individuals.

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