New protests in France over security law, coronavirus restrictions

Police arrest a protester after clashes during a demonstration against France's so-called security Bill in Paris. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PARIS (AFP) - Tens of thousands of protesters turned out in dozens of French cities on Saturday (Jan 30) against a security Bill they say will restrict the filming and publicising of images of police brutality, but also to protest the restrictions imposed against the coronavirus.

Those joining the demonstrations included activists from the "yellow vests" movement that gripped France for more than a year before the pandemic restricted large-scale protests.

Others were there to stand up for the cultural sector, hit hard by the restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Also among the protesters were young people calling for the right to hold rave parties such as the one in Brittany that attracted 2,400 at the start of the year.

"I have two reasons for coming today - the comprehensive security law and also to support culture," said Kim, a 24-year-old civil service intern.

"Lots of stores are open, the metro is packed, yet cultural sites are closed, even though we can apply protective measures" against the coronavirus, she said.

The demonstrators are protesting draft legislation that would ban filming police activities, which the ruling LREM party of President Emmanuel Macron has said it would rewrite.

But people are also protesting the use of surveillance tools such as drones and pedestrian cameras.

Footage of white police beating up a black music producer in his Paris studio on Nov 21 has fuelled anger over the legislation, condemned by many as signalling a swing to the right by Macron.

Numbers down

According to interior ministry figures, 32,077 people turned out to protest across France, significantly down on the 133,000 they said attended the largest protest against the measures, back in November - although organisers put the true turnout then at more than half a million people.

Organisers put the fall in numbers down to the coronavirus restrictions, poor weather and the fact that this was just the latest in a long series of such protests.

France has recorded 75,000 deaths from coronavirus since the outbreak began and the country is bracing for another possible lockdown.

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Fresh scuffles broke out between demonstrators and police in Paris on Saturday, adding to months of protests over a controversial security bill.

In Paris, the large Place de la Republique was half full, AFP journalists reported, while around 3,000 people gathered in Montpellier, southern France.

At around 5pm, an hour before the start of the overnight 6-6 curfew now in place as a measure against the coronavirus, clashes broke out between a group of around 50 youths and police.

After being pelted with projectiles, the police used water cannon to clear the square. The Paris prosecutors office said 26 people had been detained.

Hundreds turned out for similar rallies in other cities.

The government argues that the proposed law is needed because police officers have become the targets of attacks and calls for violence against them on social media.

But French media say a "new national plan of law enforcement" is being used to limit media coverage of demonstrations.

The proposed security law, which has already been approved by the National Assembly, is to be examined by the Senate, France's upper parliamentary chamber, in March.

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