Twice Victimised: French Women Accuse Police Of Down Playing Rape

(File Photo) A French police car parks in front of the house in Agde, south of France. Sylvain THOMAS / AFP

 

Four years after the #MeToo movement, French victims of gender-based violence are still struggling to obtain justice, with the police accused of failing to take their complaints seriously.

In the past weeks, France has been gripped by a wave of new stories of sexual assault and harassment and complaints this time are focussing on the way police treat women who come forward to report cases of assault or abuse.

The outpouring was triggered by an Instagram post by feminist Anna Toumazoff relating women’s experiences when reporting attacks at the main police station in the southern city of Montpellier.

Toumazoff described victims as being stigmatised, humiliated and made to feel guilty by the police, two years after the government launched a major drive to train up officers on handling cases of gender-based violence.

“In France, police ask rape victims if they had an orgasm,” Toumazoff tweeted, referring to the case of a 19-year-old woman who reported rape in early September.

Toumazoff claimed rape victims were told that a person who has been drinking had “automatically consented” to sex and that they “should not destroy lives” by bringing charges against their attackers.

 Montpellier police in dock

The allegations led thousands of abuse victims across France to share stories of dismissive or contemptuous treatment by police, using the hashtag “DoublePeine” (victimised twice).

The state’s representative in the Herault region where Montpellier is located threatened Toumazoff with a lawsuit for slander.

But the government of Emmanuel Macron, who has made tackling violence against women a key theme of his presidency, lent a more sympathetic ear.

Last week, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin reported that around 90,000 police officers had received training over the past two years in handling abuse cases with empathy and sensitivity.

But he admitted that there was “certainly” room for improvement and promised an investigation into the Montpellier complaints.

 Echoes of #MeToo

There have been several French offshoots of the global #MeToo movement smashing taboos around sexual harassment and assault.

In 2017, the #BalancetonPorc (Expose Your Pig) hashtag was used by thousands of women to post stories of abuse.

Three years later, a scandal involving a prominent intellectual accused of sexually abusing his teenage stepson triggered thousands of people to share harrowing accounts of abuse within families, using the #Metooinceste slogan.

The reckoning with abuse has extended to cinema, politics and elite colleges in a country where seduction is traditionally viewed as an integral part of French culture and women who complained about harassment were often dismissed as puritanical.

 ‘Not a child molester’

On the doublepeine.fr website, hundreds of women describe their struggle to have their cases taken seriously by police.

One said she was date raped and then told by police that she should drop the complaint because her attacker had “suffered enough” by being called in for questioning.

Another woman claimed that police brushed off her repeated complaints of domestic violence, on the basis that her husband was “not a child molester”.

Faced with such attitudes, several women said they withdraw their complaints.

Bringing in lawyers

Fabienne Boulard, a senior police officer who trains fellow officers on how to handle domestic violence cases, admitted to AFP that the police’s response was “still not the best”.

Officers still needed much help to navigate complex issues like the psychological violence that often accompanies domestic abuse cases, she said.

Darmanin has proposed sending officers to meet victims at a safe place to register their complaints instead of making them come to the police station.

But the #NousToutes (All of Us) feminist group said the problem was not where, but how police interacted with victims.

A group of around 100 lawyers has lobbied the government to allow rape victims to bring a lawyer when filing complaints, with gender equality minister Elisabeth Moreno saying she is “favourable” to the idea.

Real Madrid Star Benzema Goes On Trial In Sextape Case

France’s forward Karim Benzema reacts as he takes part a training session at the Olympic stadium in Turin, on October 8, 2021 two days prior to the UEFA Nations League final football match between Spain and France. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

 

Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema goes on trial in France on Wednesday accused of complicity in the attempted blackmail of former international teammate Mathieu Valbuena in a case known as the “sextape affair”.

Benzema, 33, stands accused of helping a group of alleged blackmailers to approach Valbuena in an attempt to extort money. Four other men are also on trial.

The case cost both Benzema and 37-year-old Valbuena their place in the French national team, although Benzema was restored to the lineup for this year’s European championship.

The case centres on the role that Benzema is suspected of playing in the murky affair six years ago, which started when Valbuena handed his smartphone to Axel Angot, a man connected to footballing circles in the southern port city of Marseille, with the request to transfer its contents to a new device.

READ ALSO: Osimhen Fires Napoli To Top Of Serie A

Angot, now on trial for breach of trust, came across sexually explicit footage on the phone involving Valbuena.

Prosecutors says he then explored ways — together with a friend, Mustapha Zouaoui — to approach Valbuena and threaten publication of the footage unless he paid them.

Valbuena received several calls in June 2015 threatening exposure of the footage, which he reported to police.

The blackmailers then went to former French international Djibril Cisse, who refused to act as their messenger, instead warning Valbuena of what was brewing.

Cisse, who played for Premier League club Liverpool during his career, was initially charged in the case, but later cleared.

What followed is an imbroglio involving several shadowy middlemen, one of whom turned out to be an undercover agent called “Luka” placed by police who were trying to get proof before taking action against the protagonists.

Eventually the presumed blackmailers went to one of Benzema’s old friends, Karim Zenati, who prosecutors say enlisted Benzema’s help to reach Valbuena.

‘Very heavy criminals’

On Oct 6, 2015, Benzema went to see Valbuena in his room at the French national team’s training centre at Clairefontaine, west of Paris.

He told his teammate that he could introduce him to a “trustworthy person” to help him “manage” the possible publication of a compromising video.

In what Benzema later claimed was an attempt to help his teammate out of a difficult situation, he told him: “Be careful ‘Math’, these are very, very heavy criminals.”

Benzema then called his childhood friend Karim Zenati, who was by then acting as an intermediary for the alleged blackmailers, and told him in a conversation wiretapped by police: “He’s not taking us seriously.”

Prosecutors say that the word “us” proves that Benzema saw himself as part of the blackmail scheme.

Valbuena said later that the conversation left him with the feeling that he was “being played for a fool”.

“If he doesn’t want us to handle this for him, he’ll have to deal with the piranhas,” Zenati said, claiming later that all he wanted to do was alert Valbuena to the existence of the video.

Benzema replied that “they will piss on him”, and in a subsequent conversation referred to Valbuena with a derogatory term for a homosexual, which he said later was meant “in a friendly way”.

The maximum sentence for complicity in attempted blackmail is five years in prison and a fine of 70,000 euros ($81,000).

Benzema has argued that the undercover police officer used dishonest methods to draw him into the affair.

It was unclear on Monday whether the striker, who is scheduled to play for Real Madrid against Shakhtar Donetsk in a Champions League match in Ukraine on Tuesday, will attend the trial. His lawyers did not respond to AFP’s requests for clarification.

Valbuena, who now plays for Greek club Olympiakos, will be present, his lawyer said.

The sextape case caused Benzema to be exiled from France’s national football team for years — a decision he called ‘racist’ — but the striker returned to “Les Bleus” this year in time for the European championship.

France coach Didier Deschamps said this month that “he’s no longer the same person, he’s matured”.

Benzema has scored a total of 243 goals for Real and remains a key part of their side.

France Beat Spain To Win Nations League

French players celebrate with the trophy at the end of the Nations League final football match between Spain and France at San Siro stadium in Milan, on October 10, 2021. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

 

France won the Nations League on Sunday after coming from a goal down to beat Spain 2-1 in Milan.

Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe struck to claim the title for world champions France after Mikel Oyarzabal put Spain ahead midway through the second half.

The win will ease some of the pain created by an early exit from Euro 2020 at the hands of Switzerland and highlight just how powerful France are going forward.

Les Bleus came out on top of a match at the San Siro which came to life after Oyarzabal slid home the opener in the 64th minute.

READ ALSO: World Cup In 2022 ‘Will Be My Last’, Says Neymar

As well as the two goals from their superstar attackers, France had other opportunities to score through Mbappe before a frantic finish in which Spain launched an assault on the French goal.

Didier Deschamps can thank Hugo Lloris the match didn’t go into extra-time after the France captain pulled off a fine stoppage time save to deny Yeremi Pino a late leveller.

Earlier Italy took third place after beating Belgium 2-1 in Turin through goals from Nicolo Barella and Domenico Berardi.

AFP

Macron To Host Africa ‘Summit’ Without Leaders

French President Emmanuel Macron attends the One Planet Summit videoconference meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on October 4, 2021.  (Photo by Michel Euler / POOL / AFP)

 

President Emmanuel Macron will host a conference on Africa on Friday billed as a summit but with no other leaders attending, as he aims to readjust France’s relationship with the continent.

Instead of other heads of state and premiers, Macron is inviting hundreds of young businesspeople, artists, and sporting figures to the southern city of Montpellier.

The aim is “to listen to the words of African youth” and “to leave behind obsolete formulas and frameworks”, said a French presidential official who asked not to be named.

The meeting comes at a delicate moment between France and many of its former colonies in French-speaking Africa, as a row rumbles on over a decision to cut visas to citizens of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.

Algeria recalled its ambassador after Macron reportedly said the country was ruled by a “political-military system”, while tensions have erupted between France and Mali over plans to deploy Russian mercenaries as part of an anti-jihadist fight.

The new format hints at the frustration felt by France, which has held summits with African leaders since 1973, with the political leadership of some countries.

Roughly 3,000 participants including more than 1,000 young people are expected in Montpellier for discussions on economic, cultural, and political issues.

Macron is set to debate with a panel of young people chosen after months of dialogue led by the Cameroon intellectual Achille Mbembe, who is in charge of preparing the meeting.

“Subjects that cause anger will be on the table,” the French presidential official said, adding that “the current political context makes the discussion particularly sensitive”.

French officials are promising concrete proposals from a report that Mbembe is to submit to Macron on Tuesday.

 

‘Symbolic Gestures’

Macron vowed in a November 2017 speech in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou to take a new approach to Africa, where France would no longer tell Africans what to do.

He has also made a point of reaching out to English-speaking Africa to build sway beyond France’s former colonial possessions.

On Thursday, Macron will meet in Paris with former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, still a hugely influential figure on the continent.

Since the 2017 speech, cultural artefacts pillaged from Benin have been returned and the abolition of the CFA franc, a currency once used in several countries but guaranteed by France, has been abolished.

Meanwhile, a report commissioned by Macron acknowledged France’s “overwhelming responsibilities” over the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, an issue that has poisoned relations between Paris and Kigali.

“Since the speech in Ouagadougou, the lines have moved symbolically, there have been important gestures,” said Amadou Sadjo Barry, a Canadian philosopher of Guinean origin.

“But in terms of foreign policy, we cannot speak of major changes,” he told AFP.

France remains more than ready to tolerate autocratic regimes, quickly accepting the handover of power from Chad’s president Idriss Deby Itno to his son in April.

While the Montpellier format may help bring some new life into France-Africa relations, Barry described the meeting as “a symbolic defeat for Africa”.

“Why is it still that the human, political and economic future of the African continent is being discussed in France? Why don’t African governments themselves listen to the concerns of their populations,” he asked.

AFP

Ex-France President Sarkozy Sentenced To Jail For Illegal Campaign Financing

This file photo taken on taken on November 20, 2016 in Paris shows former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. (Photo by IAN LANGSDON / POOL / AFP)

 

 

A French court on Thursday handed former president Nicolas Sarkozy a one-year sentence for illegal financing of his 2012 re-election bid, dealing a fresh blow to the right-winger six months after he received a jail term for corruption.

Sarkozy, 66, will not serve time behind bars under the terms of Thursday’s verdict, with the court ruling that he would be able to serve the sentence outside of prison.

He was not in court to hear the judge hand down the maximum sentence for illegal campaign financing after finding that he had “voluntarily neglected” to monitor his campaign spending.

Sarkozy’s lawyer Thierry Herzog said he would appeal the verdict.

The verdict — which as in the first trial means he will likely serve the term at home with an ankle bracelet if confirmed on appeal — is not the same as a suspended sentence and goes down in his record as a full prison term.

Sarkozy spent nearly twice the legal limit of 22.5 million euros on his failed bid for a second term in office.

The case is one of several arising out of a string of investigations into Sarkozy’s affairs since he lost his presidential immunity.

Bygmalion

This file photo taken on taken on November 20, 2016 in Paris shows former French president Nicolas Sarkozy . (Photo by IAN LANGSDON / POOL / AFP)

 

In March he became France’s first post-war president to be sentenced to jail in a separate case relating to his attempts to secure favours from a judge.

Sarkozy received a three-year jail for corruption and influence peddling at that trial, two years of which were suspended.

In that case, too, he will likely avoid prison, with the judge saying she would consider letting him serve the remaining year of his sentence at home, wearing an electronic ankle bracelet.

France’s president from 2007 to 2012 pulled out all the stops to try fend off his Socialist rival Francois Hollande.

A series of lavish US-style election rallies caused his costs to spiral, with the final bill coming to at least 42.8 million euros.

The public relations firm Bygmalion hired to organize the events set up a system of fake invoices to mask the real cost of the events.

While the investigation failed to prove Sarkozy was aware of the fraud, the court found that it “undeniably” benefited him.

‘Cavalier’ attitude

At his five-week trial in May and June, the prosecution had portrayed him as having a “cavalier” attitude to the public money available to candidates during campaigning and said he ignored warnings from his accountants about the ballooning costs.

Sarkozy dismissed the allegations of wanton recklessness as “a fairy tale”, saying he had been too busy running the country to pay attention to the finer details of his campaign finances.

His Union for a Popular Movement party, since renamed the Republicans, picked up the tab for most of the excess.

Thirteen other people, including Sarkozy’s former campaign manager, several Bygmalion executives and a handful of former directors of Sarkozy’s The Republicans party were also tried in the case.

They received jail terms of up to three-and-a-half years in prison, with part of the sentences suspended.

Before Sarkozy, the only French leader to be sentenced at trial was his predecessor Jacques Chirac, who received a two-year suspended sentence in 2011 for corruption over a fake jobs scandal relating to his time as Paris mayor.

Sarkozy attended just one day of his campaign finance trial, a snub that infuriated prosecutors who accused him of acting “as if he is not answerable to the law like everyone else”.

The case failed to garner much interest among the public, with the charges seen as less sensational than the corruption charges that had already dented any prospect of Sarkozy making another comeback.

In 2016, he attempted to win back the Elysee Palace but failed to gain the nomination of his right-wing party.

Sarkozy was defeated by his former prime minister Francois Fillon, who was tipped to go on to win the election but crashed out in the first round over a fraud scandal that would later see him convicted.

Fillon’s downfall left the right rudderless and added to nostalgia among conservative voters for the heyday of the energetic Sarkozy, who led France through the eurozone debt crisis of 2008-2009.

With new presidential elections looming in April next year, conservative candidates have been jostling to receive Sarkozy’s endorsement.

France Slashes Visas For Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia In Migrant Row

French Secretary of State and Government’s spokesperson Gabriel Attal delivers a speech during the press briefing following the weekly cabinet meeting at the Elysee Presidential Palace, in Paris, on September 22, 2021. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

 

France on Tuesday said it would sharply reduce the number of visas granted to people from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, accusing the former French colonies of not doing enough to allow illegal immigrants to return.

“It’s a drastic decision, and unprecedented, but one made necessary by the fact that these countries are refusing to take back nationals who we do not want or cannot keep in France,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told Europe 1 radio.

The station first reported the visa clampdown earlier Tuesday, saying President Emmanuel Macron took the decision a month ago after failed diplomatic efforts with the three North African countries.

Immigration is shaping up to be a key issue in next year’s French presidential election when Macron is widely expected to face off again against the far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

When a French court denies a person’s visa request, authorities must still secure a special travel pass from his or her home country in order to forcibly expel them, a document that Paris says Algiers, Rabat and Tunis are refusing to provide.

“There was dialogue, then there were threats, and today we’re carrying out those threats,” Attal said.

“We’re hoping that the response will be more cooperation with France so that we can apply our immigration rules,” he said.

Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita however condemned the move as “unjustified”, saying his country had carefully dealt with migrant issues to find a balance between allowing freedom of movement while clamping down on illegal migration.

“The decision (by France) is sovereign. Morocco will study it, but the reasons given to justify it require explanation and a dialogue, because they do not reflect reality,” he told reporters in Rabat.

According to Europe 1, which cited administration figures, Macron has ordered the number of visa deliveries to Algeria and Morocco to be halved from 2020 levels, and by a third for Tunisia.

It said that in the case of Algeria, French courts had rejected 7,731 visa requests in the first six months of this year, yet because the travel passes had not been granted, only 22 individuals had been expelled from French territory.

For the next six months, Macron has capped visas for Algerians at 31,500, the report said.

France granted a record number of visas — 275,000 — to Algerians in 2019.

AFP

Mbappe Needs To ‘Learn How To Be Humble’ – Metz Coach

Paris Saint-Germain’s French forward Kylian Mbappe reacts during the French L1 football match between Stade Brestois and Paris Saint-Germain at Francis-Le Ble Stadium in Brest on August 20, 2021. LOIC VENANCE / AFP

 

French World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe was told Wednesday that he needs to add a dose of humility to his undoubted talents in front of goal “if he wants to be loved”.

The advice came from Metz coach Frederic Antonetti after the mega-rich Ligue 1 champions needed a stoppage time winner to beat the bottom side 2-1 and preserve their 100 percent start to the domestic season.

READ ALSO: PSG Beat Lyon But Messi Yet To Score First Goal In France

“Kylian Mbappe needs to behave better if he wants to be loved,” said Antonetti.

“I love this player, he is very, very strong but he’d benefit from having a more humble side.”

Antonetti was responding to a question on the yellow card handed to his goalkeeper Alexandre Oukidja who confronted Mbappe over his celebration when the winning goal was scored.

“In the game, Mbappe was non-existent,” said Antonetti.

AFP

Indian Man On Bail Must Wash Women’s Clothes For Six Months

A file photo used to illustrate the story.

 

An Indian man accused of attempted rape has been given bail on condition that he wash and iron the clothes of all women in his village for six months.

Lalan Kumar, 20, will have to buy detergent and other items needed to provide six months of free laundry services to about 2,000 women in the village of Majhor in Bihar state, under the ruling made Wednesday.

Kumar, who washes clothes for a living, was arrested in April on charges including attempted rape, Santosh Kumar Singh, a police officer in Bihar’s Madhubani district, told AFP.

No date has been set for his trial.

“All the women in the village are happy with the court decision,” Nasima Khatoon, the head of the village council, told AFP.

“It is historic. It will boost respect for women and help to protect dignity,” added Khatoon, one of the village dignitaries who will monitor Kumar.

READ ALSO: Defender Dies After Almost 40 Years In Coma

Women in the village said the order had made a positive impact by making crime against women a subject of discussion in their community.

“This is a remarkable step and a different kind of punishment that sends a message to society,” said Anjum Perween.

India’s rape laws were overhauled after a 2012 gang rape in New Delhi but the number of offences remains high, with more than 28,000 rapes reported in 2020.

Police have long been accused of not doing enough to prevent violent crime and failing to bring sexual assault cases to court.

AFP

France Warns Mali Against Russian Wagner Mercenary Deal

Mali, officially the Republic of Mali, is a landlocked country in West Africa.
Mali, officially the Republic of Mali, is a landlocked country in West Africa.

 

French Defence Minister Florence Parly warned Mali on Tuesday against a deal with Russian private security group Wagner amid claims the West African country’s junta is close to hiring 1,000 mercenaries.

Two French sources told AFP on Tuesday that the Malian government was nearing a deal with the controversial Russian firm, which would underline Moscow’s growing influence in the region.

“If the Malian authorities entered into a contract with Wagner, it would be extremely worrying and contradictory, incoherent with everything that we have done for years and we intend to do to support the countries of the Sahel region,” Parly told a parliamentary commission.

Earlier on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Malian defence ministry did not deny the discussions, which were first reported by Reuters news agency on Monday.

“Mali intends to diversify its relationships in the medium term to ensure the security of the country,” the spokesperson told AFP. “We haven’t signed anything with Wagner, but we are talking with everyone.”

In 2013, France sent troops to Mali after Islamist militants overran the north of the country.

Since then, Paris has deployed thousands of troops to the wider Sahel region where they carry out operations alongside local forces against Islamist rebels linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Relations between France and Mali have deteriorated since a coup in August 2020 toppled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

French leader Emmanuel Macron has been angered by backsliding on commitments to power-sharing and democratic rule, as well as decisions to free imprisoned jihadists in exchange for hostages.

France suspended military cooperation with Mali last June, and Macron has announced plans to close bases in northern Mali and draw down the presence of French troops in the region.

The arrival of Russian mercenaries in Mali would be a “red line” for Macron, one of the French sources said, adding that Paris could send its troops stationed in the country to neighbouring Niger.

 

‘Worried About Security’

In recent years, Russian paramilitaries, “security instructors”, companies and advisors have grown increasingly influential in the war-torn Central African Republic (CAR), whose relations with Paris have also nosedived.

Through close diplomatic and security ties, Russian companies have gained concessions in the CAR’s mining sector.

One of the French sources said the deal under discussion between Wagner and Mali would involve Russian access to mining rights.

Forces from Wagner are also reported to be present in various countries elsewhere in Africa, including in Libya in support of strongman Khalifa Haftar, in Sudan and in Mozambique.

Wagner was first seen in Mali by AFP at the end of 2019 when a small team was identified in the capital Bamako just after former president Keita had signed a military cooperation deal with Russia.

A diplomat in the Russian embassy in Mali told AFP that “we are not aware of any contract being signed between Mali and Wagner” and that the embassy had “not been the intermediary”.

“Like France and other countries, we are worried about security in the region,” the diplomat said.

In the CAR, France and NGOs have denounced the role played by Wagner, which is allegedly headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Prigozhin, who has been sanctioned by both the EU and US, has denied links to Wagner and any role in conflicts in Africa.

AFP

France Grants Citizenship To 12,000 Foreign COVID-19 Frontline Workers

This handout photo taken on April 27, 2021 and released to AFP on September 9 by the NGO Family Frontiers shows plaintiffs in a case challenging a law preventing women in Malaysia passing their citizenship on to children born overseas, posing outside the Kuala Lumpur High Court in Kuala Lumpur. (Photo by Handout / Family Frontiers / AFP)

 

France has granted citizenship to over 12,000 foreign-born health workers, security guards, checkout assistants and other frontline workers to thank them for their services during the Covid crisis, the government said Thursday.

Marlene Schiappa, junior interior minister in charge of citizenship, said over 16,000 people had applied for a French passport over the past year under a special scheme allowing workers in essential services to apply for citizenship after just two years in France, instead of the usual five.

Of these, 12,012 became French, she said.

 

French Junior Minister of Citizenship Marlene Schiappa delivers a speech during a “reversed conference” with victims of domestic violence (violences conjugales) and relatives testifying, at the Interior Ministry at Place Beauvau in Paris, on September 6, 2021. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

 

Among the other categories of employees eligible for the scheme are garbage collectors, home-care providers and nannies.

“These frontline workers were there for the nation. It is normal that the nation makes a gesture in their favour,” Schiappa said in a statement.

READ ALSO: Los Angeles To Make COVID-19 Vaccines Compulsory For Schoolkids

In 2020, a total of 61,371 people got French citizenship.

AFP

Defender Dies After Almost 40 Years In Coma

 

 

Former France defender Jean-Pierre Adams has died aged 73 after almost 40 years in a coma, his former club Nimes announced on Monday.

Adams, who made 22 international appearances in the 1970s, slipped into a coma after a mistake by his anaesthetist during routine knee surgery in 1982.

Born in Dakar in 1948, he was one of the first men born in West Africa to play for France.

His centre-back partnership with Marius Tresor for France was nicknamed “the blackguard”.

“We learned this morning of the death of Jean-Pierre Adams,” Nimes wrote on Twitter, extending their “sincere condolences to his family”.

Adams also played for Nice and Paris Saint-Germain.

-AFP

160,000 Protest In France Against Covid Rules

Demonstrators take part in a national day of protest against the compulsory Covid-19 vaccination for certain workers, and the mandatory use of the health pass called for by the French government to access most public spaces, in Montpellier, southern France, on August 28, 2021. Sylvain THOMAS / AFP
Demonstrators take part in a national day of protest against the compulsory Covid-19 vaccination for certain workers, and the mandatory use of the health pass called for by the French government to access most public spaces, in Montpellier, southern France, on August 28, 2021. Sylvain THOMAS / AFP

 

A total of 160,000 people protested across France on Saturday, the interior ministry said, angered at the country’s Covid health pass system which they say unfairly restricts the unvaccinated.

By early evening the authorities had logged 222 separate protest actions, including 14,500 people who turned out in Paris.

Sixteen people were arrested and three police officers slightly injured in what was the seventh consecutive weekend of Covid protests.

“The vaccine isn’t the solution,” said retiree Helene Vierondeels, who attended a right-wing protest in Paris.

READ ALSO: India Vaccinates 10 Million In One Day

“We should rather be stopping the closures of hospital beds and continuing the barrier measures,” she added.

In Bordeaux, several protesters said they were refusing to get their children vaccinated, just days before the start of the new school year.

“We aren’t laboratory rats,” said one 11-year-old boy who was marching with his father.

“We live in a free country, there are no figures that justify mass vaccinations,” his father said, likening the increased pressure to vaccinate to rape.

Under the Covid pass system, introduced progressively since mid-July, anyone wishing to enter a restaurant, theatre, cinema, long-distance train, or large shopping centre must show proof of vaccination or a negative test.

The government insists the pass is necessary to encourage vaccination uptake and avoid a fourth national lockdown, with the unvaccinated accounting for most of the Covid-19 patients admitted to hospital.

Saturday’s overall figure was slightly down on the 175,000 protesters who turned out the previous weekend.

Around 200,000 people have marched on previous weekends, according to interior ministry figures.

Organisers claim the real numbers were double the estimates announced by police.

The protest movement has brought together conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, former members of the “Yellow Vest” anti-government movement, as well as people concerned that the current system unfairly creates a two-tier society.