Clashes as French youths protest alleged police rape

Hundreds of French students block the entrances to their high schools before taking to the streets to protest against alleged police brutality.
French plain-clothes police apprehend a youth during a protest in Paris, Feb 23, 2017.
French plain-clothes police apprehend a youth during a protest in Paris, Feb 23, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (AFP) - French students protesting police brutality on Thursday (Feb 23) blocked 16 Paris high schools and clashed with security forces three weeks after a black youth worker was allegedly raped with a police baton.

Violence broke out at a central Paris square when the youths, some of them wearing hoods, tried to force police barricades.

Some damaged cars and cash machines while others hurled cobblestones at police, who responded with tear gas.

Police made 11 arrests during the protest, one of a string held in Paris and around France since the Feb 2 incident involving a 22-year-old named only as Theo.

Upwards of 1,000 people shouting "Vengeance for Theo" took part in Thursday's demonstration in the Place de la Nation, a common protest venue.

Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem appealed for calm, saying: "Young people's emotion over the Theo affair is understandable, but we must let justice take its course."

Violence is "unacceptable", she told reporters.

City education authorities said 16 high schools were totally paralysed while a dozen others were partially blocked.

At many of them, entrances were blocked by rubbish bins, some of them set alight.

Theo, who was allegedly sodomised with a police truncheon after an identity check, required surgery after his violent arrest in the gritty suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois, which was caught on video.

One officer has been charged with rape over the affair, and three others with assault. All four have been suspended from their duties.

An internal police investigation found insufficient evidence to support allegations that Theo was raped and said the injuries were not inflicted intentionally.

The criminal probe is, however, ongoing.

The case has revived long-simmering frustrations over policing in immigrant communities, where young men accuse the police of repeatedly targeting them in aggressive stop-and-search operations and using excessive force during arrests.

The police for their part complain of being drawn into a cat-and-mouse game with delinquents and drug dealers operating out of housing estates.

In 2005, the death of two teenagers who were electrocuted while hiding from police in an electricity substation sparked weeks of riots in France.