PARIS (AFP) - French officials on Tuesday (Jan 8) slammed a fund-raising drive that brought in more than 100,000 euros for a former boxer filmed punching police officers during the latest "yellow vest" anti-government protests in Paris over the weekend.
Christophe Dettinger, known as "The Gypsy From Massy" during his days in the ring, turned himself in to police on Monday after videos emerged of him assaulting shield-carrying officers during the demonstrations on Saturday.
As of Tuesday morning, over 7,000 people had pledged a total of €117,000 (S$180,000) on the Leetchi website to help pay legal costs for Dettinger, who remains in custody.
In a video posted on YouTube on Sunday, he described himself as an "ordinary citizen" acting out of anger with what he called the repressive tactics of the police.
"I was tear-gassed, with my friend and my wife, and at a certain point the anger just rose up inside me," said the 2007 and 2008 champion of France's light heavyweight division.
His case garnered many pledges of support on social media, with some calling him a hero for defending a movement which has accused police of using excessive force against demonstrators.
But government officials assailed the fundraising drive, with many calling for it to be shut down or for the pledged funds to be seized.
"To what level of hate have we sunk to in the public sphere that people fund gratuitous violence against someone charged with upholding public order?" Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa told France Info radio on Tuesday.
"It's outrageous, this kitty is shameful," she said.
The SCSI-CFDT police union said the funds should be used to compensate the two officers targeted by Dettinger, who were removed from duty while recovering from their injuries.
'LEGAL COSTS' ONLY
Leetchi initially defended its hosting of the fundraising, saying it was simply a "neutral" online platform.
But on Tuesday it stopped displaying the amount pledged, before closing the kitty "in light of the amount raised" after more than 8,100 pledges.
"Christophe and his family are sincerely touched by your generosity... and as he says, 'the fight continues!'," an administrator of the fund-raising effort wrote on the site.
Leetchi did not reveal how much was raised in total, but said that it would ensure the funds "will be used only to pay for legal costs" and that any money left over would be returned to donors.
"In no way do we make judgements or take any stance whatsoever on the value of a theme, cause or project," it added.
Around 50,000 "yellow vest" protesters took to the streets again on Saturday to denounce President Emmanuel Macron's policies, call for his resignation or demand more of a say in national law-making.
It was the latest of weekly protests since November which have often spilled into running battles with police in Paris and other cities, with dozens of vehicles set ablaze and stores vandalised.
Many protesters claim they are simply responding to police violence, pointing to a video showing a police captain hitting protesters in the southern city of Toulon at the weekend, and their heavy use of teargas and rubber bullets.
Journalists have also become targets for protesters, with many media outlets hiring body guards to protect their reporting teams.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe in a TV interview late Monday announced plans for legislation banning "troublemakers" from attending demonstrations.
Another major demonstration has been called for Saturday, this time in Bourges, central France, instead of the capital.
The yellow vest movement, originally against fuel tax hikes, has snowballed into a wide protest against the rising cost of living, which prompted Macron's government to announce a minimum wage hike and other financial relief.
But many of the protesters in their now trademark high-visibility vests say the measures are not enough, claiming rural France is paying the price for Macron's policies that they see as mainly profiting a wealthy Parisian elite.
Their latest bone of contention is the reported 14,666-euro monthly salary for Chantal Jouanno, who will lead a national debate being organised by the government to discuss living standards and government policies.
"If they want to propose lowering my salary, they are completely free to do so," Jouanno told France Info on Monday.