France protest leader 'handicapped for life' after rubber bullet to the eye, says lawyer

Yellow vest movement leader Jerome Rodrigues being evacuated after getting injured in the eye during clashes between protesters and riot police, in Paris on Jan 16, 2019.
Yellow vest movement leader Jerome Rodrigues being evacuated after getting injured in the eye during clashes between protesters and riot police, in Paris on Jan 16, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - A prominent French anti-government "yellow vest" activist, badly injured in the eye at a protest, was struck with one of the controversial rubber bullets used by police, his lawyer said on Sunday (Jan 27).

Mr Jerome Rodrigues' lawyer fears he will be "handicapped for life" after he was injured in clashes with police in Paris on Saturday during an 11th straight weekend of protests against President Emmanuel Macron.

Mr Rodrigues was placed in an artificial coma overnight after the incident at the Bastille monument in central Paris.

"He is in shock. He will be handicapped for life. It is a tragedy for him and his family," lawyer Philippe de Veulle told BFM television, adding that he was lodging a complaint against the police.

The bearded Mr Rodrigues, who has become a well-known figure in the "yellow vest" movement with 50,000 followers on Facebook, was live-streaming the protest on the website when he was hit.

Mr De Veulle said Mr Rodrigues was struck with a "flashball", referring to the 40mm rubber projectiles used by French riot police.

The devices have become deeply controversial in France since the protests began in November, blamed for dozens of serious injuries.

On Saturday, police using the bullets were for the first time deployed wearing body cams in a bid to increase transparency.

Mr Rodrigues, speaking to LCI television from hospital, said he was also hit by a stingball grenade, another controversial riot control device.

 
 
 

"Everything happened very quickly. They threw a grenade at me and I took a (rubber) bullet. I was attacked twice - a grenade to the foot, and the bullet," Mr Rodrigues said.

He accused police of carrying out "all the violence the rules allow".

Witnesses picked up the projectile that struck Mr Rodrigues and police are set to investigate the circumstances of the incident.

Originally sparked by rises in fuel taxes, the "yellow vest" protests quickly snowballed into a widespread revolt over accusations that Mr Macron, an ex-banker, is out of touch with rural and small-town France.

Named after the emblematic luminous road safety vests worn by protesters, the demonstrations have drawn tens of thousands of people to the streets.

But their numbers have eased in recent weeks after Mr Macron announced a series of policy climbdowns and launched a two-month consultation to allow people to vent their anger.

The Interior Ministry estimated that 69,000 turned out across France on Saturday, compared with 84,000 a week earlier.