French police dump handcuffs in protest to rebuff critics

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Media captionAngry police in Lille discarded their handcuffs in a protest

Angry police across France have thrown their handcuffs on the ground as they feel “insulted” by claims that they tolerate brutality and racism.

Protesting police also drove in convoy down the Champs-Élysées in central Paris on Friday, sounding their horns.

They rejected any parallels with the Minneapolis police officers whose fatal arrest of George Floyd sparked a wave of anti-racism protests worldwide.

And they are furious with a government ban on the police “chokehold”.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced the ban on Monday, after French protesters took to the streets alleging that police in France exhibited racism towards ethnic minorities, in the same way that US police have been accused of using brutality towards black suspects.

Mr Castaner held talks with police unions on Thursday and they are continuing, as the government seeks to cool an intense racism debate that has re-ignited tensions in some communities.

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Image caption Police in central Paris on Friday: “No police, no peace”, the banner reads

There was trouble earlier this month when protesters, inspired by the US anti-racism marches, commemorated Adama Traoré, a 24-year-old black Frenchman who died in a 2016 police operation.

Police have also been accused of seriously wounding a 14-year-old boy called Gabriel, when he was detained on suspicion of trying to steal a scooter in Bondy near Paris late last month.

Anti-racism activists plan to march from République to Opéra in central Paris on Saturday. The Paris police department has warned that shops and other businesses in the area should close and board up their windows, as trouble could flare up again.

Police handcuff protests took place on Thursday in Paris, Lille, Rennes, Bordeaux, Toulouse and other cities and continued on Friday morning, with a row of officers discarding their handcuffs at Orly airport near Paris.

Defending the police use of chokeholds, Xavier Leveau of the police union told the AFP news agency that “head restraint is very important during handcuffing”. He insisted it was nothing like the method used in the death of George Floyd.

“We’re not going to hold him down for eight minutes, we’re going to hold him down just for the handcuffing… we don’t have a substitute technique. So how do we do it today?”

He went on: “We are angry at the announcements that are made, where we suspect the police of everything and nothing, whereas in our country the police really reflect the image of its population.

“People think that the police are racist, whereas in our country we have people of all ethnic groups, and we all work well together.”

France’s police watchdog says it received almost 1,500 complaints against officers last year – half of them for alleged violence, AFP reports.

On Monday the interior minister announced the chokehold method “will be abandoned”.

“It will no longer be taught in police and gendarmerie schools. It is a method that has its dangers,” he said.

He vowed that there would be “zero tolerance” of racism in law enforcement and officers strongly suspected of racism would be suspended.

He said too many officers had “failed in their Republican duty” in recent weeks, and he cited cases of racist and discriminatory remarks. “We have to track it down and combat it.”

A Paris police officer quoted by Le Parisien news on Friday said “this government is spineless – all you need is 20,000 hotheads in the street and the government abandons the police”.