Ethiopia Makes Arrests After Protest That Claimed At Least 166 Lives

Members of the Oromo Ethiopian community in Lebanon take part in a demonstration to protest the death of musician and activist Hachalu Hundessa, in the capital Beirut on July 5, 2020. ANWAR AMRO / AFP
Members of the Oromo Ethiopian community in Lebanon take part in a demonstration to protest the death of musician and activist Hachalu Hundessa, in the capital Beirut on July 5, 2020. ANWAR AMRO / AFP

 

A leading opposition party representing Ethiopia’s Oromo ethnic group said Monday that five senior members had been detained following violence last week that claimed at least 166 lives.

The political crackdown deepens fears of a large-scale roundup of government critics as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed seeks to maintain control and keep a lid on simmering ethnic tensions and resentments.

The opposition politicians from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) were seized by security forces in the capital, Addis Ababa, party chairman Dawud Ibsa told AFP. They include Chaltu Takkele and Gemmechu Ayana, senior political officers, and Kennesa Ayana, a member of the party’s central committee.

“We don’t know why they were taken,” Dawud said. “They were just simply sitting in their rooms and doing their jobs.”

Protests broke out in Addis Ababa and the surrounding Oromia region following the fatal shooting on June 29 of Hachalu Hundessa, a pop star whose songs channelled marginalisation among his Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest.

An Oromia police official said late Saturday that 156 people had been killed across the region in the ensuing violence, including 11 members of the security forces. Ten additional deaths have been reported in Addis Ababa.

Officials have attributed the deaths to a combination of lethal force by security officers and inter-ethnic violence.

The situation in the capital has been calm since Friday, though a nationwide internet blackout remained in effect Monday for a seventh consecutive day.

Abiy, who won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize in part for opening up Ethiopia’s political space, lifted a ban on the OLF shortly after he assumed office in 2018.

But the OLF’s Dawud said some senior members of his party had been arrested numerous times since then and held for extended periods — several months in some cases — without ever seeing a courtroom, a tactic common under previous Ethiopian leaders.

“It’s the continuation of the past and we don’t know why it’s happening,” he said.

The OLF is not the only party to be targeted in recent days. During last week’s unrest officials also detained Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba from the Oromo Federalist Congress, as well as Eskinder Nega, a longtime government critic who has recently spoken out against government policies he argues favour Oromos.

All three men appeared briefly in court last week.

In addition, officials on Friday detained Yilkal Getnet, chairman of the opposition Ethiopian National Movement Party, for reasons that remain unclear, according to Girma Bekele, vice chairman of the Ethiopian Political Parties Joint Council, a consortium of more than 100 parties.

“I for one do not think Yilkal has any involvement with recent unrest. He believes in a peaceful, legal struggle,” Girma told AFP.

 

AFP

Hundreds Protest In Sudan Over Insecurity

Sudanese demonstrators gesture as they chant during a protest on Sixty street in the east of the capital Khartoum, on June 30, 2020.  ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP
Sudanese demonstrators gesture as they chant during a protest on Sixty street in the east of the capital Khartoum, on June 30, 2020. ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP

 

Hundreds of Sudanese held a protest Friday in the Central Darfur state calling on the government to secure their properties following recent incidents of killings and looting, witnesses said.

Last week, unidentified armed men killed three farmers near the town of Nertiti in Central Darfur, triggering the ire of residents who long complained of lack of security in the area.

“We have been here for four days and we will continue our protest until our demands are met,” protester Adam Haroun told AFP on Friday at a sit-in outside a government office in Nertiti.

Mohamed Eissa, another protester, slammed the inaction of security forces saying “they are not carrying out their role to protect the area from gangs”.

Later on Friday, Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said a government delegation from Khartoum will visit the region to address the demands of the protesters.

“The demands of our people in Nertiti in Central Darfur are fair and well deserved,” the premier wrote on Twitter.

Darfur was the scene of a bitter conflict that broke out in 2003 between African minority rebels, complaining of marginalisation, and government forces under ousted president Omar al-Bashir.

The fighting killed 300,000 people and displaced 2.5 million others, according to the United Nations.

Bashir was ousted in April 2019 by the military following months of mass protests against his rule, triggered mainly by economic hardship.

He is wanted by The Hague-based International Criminal Court over charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

 

AFP

COVID-19: Frontline Health Workers Protest Unpaid Hazard Allowance [PHOTOS]

COVID-19 Frontline health workers protest their non-payment of their hazard allowance in Abuja on June 22, 2020. Credit: Sodiq Adelakun/Channels TV

 

Frontline health workers involved in the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response have protested the non-payment of their hazard allowances in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

The protesters consist of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Team, including investigators and sample collectors.

READ ALSO: No State In Nigeria Is COVID-19 Free – NCDC DG

In trying to air their grievances, some carried placards with the inscriptions “Our colleagues are already infected,” “Payout three months allowances,” among others.

See Photos Below:

China To Establish ‘National Security Agency’ In Protest-Ridden Hong Kong

In this file photo taken on May 24, 2020, riot police gather on a road as protesters take part in a pro-democracy rally against a proposed new security law in Hong Kong. Anthony WALLACE / AFP
In this file photo taken on May 24, 2020, riot police gather on a road as protesters take part in a pro-democracy rally against a proposed new security law in Hong Kong. Anthony WALLACE / AFP

 

China will set up a “national security agency” in Hong Kong to oversee a forthcoming new law aimed at cracking down on dissent in the city, state media said on Saturday.

The new law also would override any existing Hong Kong laws that may conflict with it once it is implemented, Xinhua news agency said in a report detailing the draft legislation.

The report followed the conclusion of a meeting in Beijing of China’s top law-making committee during which it reviewed a preliminary draft of legislation aimed at snuffing out the pro-democracy movement that has rocked the semi-autonomous city.

The Hong Kong security agency would be chaired by the city’s chief executive and would be empowered to act to address security threats.

Xinhua said the eventual law would criminalise “secession, subversion of state power, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces” that endanger security.

It said the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress — China’s rubber-stamp legislature — would “soon finalise” the legislation.

The controversial national security law has raised international concerns that it will end the financial hub’s remaining freedoms.

The fast-tracking of the bill — which is bypassing Hong Kong’s legislature — also has compounded fears in the finance hub that mainland style political repression is on its way.

The draft also stipulates that if Hong Kong laws clash with the provisions of the upcoming legislation, the power of interpretation lies with the Standing Committee in Beijing.

Tens Of Thousands Protest In Mali, Seek Resignation Of President

An aerial view shows protesters gathering for a demonstration in the Independence square in Bamako on June 19, 2020. MICHELE CATTANI / AFP
An aerial view shows protesters gathering for a demonstration in the Independence square in Bamako on June 19, 2020. MICHELE CATTANI / AFP

 

Tens of thousands of people rallied in Mali’s capital Bamako on Friday to demand the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, heeding the call of the country’s newly resurgent opposition.

The 75-year-old president is under pressure over failures to contain a jihadist insurgency that emerged in northern Mali in 2012 and spread to the fragile centre of the West African state.

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have died, and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.

But the sclerotic pace of political reforms, a flagging economy and a widely shared perception of government corruption have also fed anti-Keita sentiment.

On Friday, an imam led tens of thousands of protesters in a prayer in a central city square.

Protesters then sang the national anthem and blew vuvuzela horns, with many toting placards bearing anti-government slogans.

The demonstration follows a similar rally on June 5 organised by a newly-formed coalition of opposition groups.

That coalition has since adopted the name, “Movement of June 5 — Rally of Patriotic Forces.”

Uniting religious leaders and civil society figures, the coalition is channelling deep-seated frustration about the slow pace of progress and continuing bloodshed.

At its head is Mahmoud Dicko, an imam and Islamic hardliner whose political star is rising in the war-torn country.

The June 5 movement organised Friday’s protest, despite Keita’s pledge on Tuesday to form a new unity government that would include opposition figures.

‘He will understand’

Keita was elected president of the poor Sahel nation of some 19 million people in 2013, and won a second five-year term in 2018.

He has been pushed to make several concessions in recent days in response to mounting criticism, like raising the salaries of public teachers on Tuesday after a long-running pay dispute.

The president also extended an olive branch to the political opposition on Tuesday, proposing to form a unity government.

But his efforts to appease opponents appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

Dicko had earlier told reporters in Bamako that Friday’s protest would go ahead come what may.

“He hasn’t learned his lesson, he doesn’t listen to people,” he had said. “But this time he will understand”.

Mamadou Diakite, a 42-year-old teacher at Friday’s protest, told AFP that Keita had to step down.

“We are here for the final victory, there is no negotiation possible,” he said.

The sharpening political divide in Mali is worrying the country’s neighbours.

A delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc met Mali’s prime minister as well as opposition figures in Bamako on Thursday and Friday, in a bid to defuse tensions.

It called for the creation of a “consensus government of national unity.”

The delegation said a decision by the constitutional court in late April was the source of social-political tension in the country.

The court had overturned around 30 results from the elections in March and April, including a third benefiting candidates from the president’s party.

The delegation called for the government to review the results and hold new partial elections “in the concerned districts as soon as possible.”

Court sources said four of the nine members of the constitutional court handed in their resignations on Friday.

Premier League Restarts As Players Take Knee In Racism Protest

Sheffield United’s French striker Lys Mousset (R) reacts with Aston Villa’s English defender Tyrone Mings after the English Premier League football match between Aston Villa and Sheffield United at Villa Park in Birmingham, central England on June 17, 2020. 
Shaun Botterill / POOL / AFP

 

The Premier League resumed on Wednesday after a three-month hiatus, with players taking the knee at the start of a goalless draw between Aston Villa and Sheffield United overshadowed by a goalline controversy.

Coronavirus restrictions mean the 92 games remaining after the 100-day shutdown are being crammed into less than six weeks.

Defeat for Manchester City, who kicked off against Arsenal later on Wednesday, would leave Liverpool on the brink of their first English top-flight title for 30 years.

But Villa and Sheffield took centre stage to relaunch the English top-flight.

In front of a huge global audience, players and staff protested racial injustice for about 10 seconds in solidarity with worldwide protests following the death of American George Floyd while in police custody.

“In the first Premier League fixture of Project Restart both clubs hope that the act of ‘taking a knee’ will send a strong message of unity and amplify the many messages of support from Premier League players and the wider football family,” the clubs said in a statement.

Manchester City and Arsenal players also took a knee before kick-off at the Etihad.

All players will wear Black Lives Matter (BLM) on the back of their shirts where names are normally printed for the first 12 matches of the restart.

A BLM logo will feature on shirts for the remainder of the season along with a badge thanking Britain’s health workers for their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 0-0 draw at Villa Park did not suit either side.

Aston Villa were seeking a precious win to lift them out of the relegation zone while Sheffield United are chasing a European spot next season.

Tech Failure

The big talking point came late in the first half when a free-kick from United’s Oliver Norwood was caught by Villa goalkeeper Orjan Nyland, but he stumbled backwards and looked to have carried the ball over his own goalline.

United players appealed for the goal, but the technology that alerts the referee when the ball has gone over the line did not award it and VAR did not intervene.

Despite replays showing the ball had clearly crossed the line before Nyland regained his footing, referee Michael Oliver had no choice but to let play continue.

Should Manchester City lose to Arsenal, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, who hold a 25-point lead at the top of the table, could be crowned champions as early as Sunday when they face local rivals Everton.

Despite concerns over fans congregating around stadiums, clubs won the battle to host matches in their home grounds.

Liverpool can win a long-awaited title in their own city, either at Goodison, or when the Reds host Crystal Palace at Anfield on Wednesday.

But Klopp stressed the need for supporters to stay at home.

“Stay safe, support us from home. We are still with you and you’ll never walk alone,” he said.

The battle for Champions League places next season and to avoid the drop are far more closely contested.

Matches will be preceded by a minute’s silence in memory of those who have died from coronavirus. Britain is the worst-hit country in Europe with more than 42,000 deaths.

Three of the four managers to lead their sides on Wednesday have been touched by the virus.

Aston Villa boss Dean Smith’s father died, while City manager Pep Guardiola lost his mother.

Guardiola’s former assistant Mikel Arteta returns to the Etihad for the first time as Arsenal manager three months after his positive test for coronavirus hastened the season shutdown.

Silence 

With all games being played behind closed doors, players will have to get used to the eerie silence in the usually raucous stands.

Piping crowd chants into stadiums, cardboard cut-outs of supporters and live video fan walls will add colour but the Premier League’s chief executive Richard Masters admitted there would be something missing without crowds.

“It is going to be an odd experience without fans at the stadia,” he said. “The Premier League won’t be back with a capital ‘B’ until fans are back.”

Just 300 people will be allowed in stadiums for each match, with strict health protocols in place.

Players have been told to maintain social-distancing during goal celebrations and are banned from spitting.

Mali Protest Leader Urges Mass Anti-Government Rally

Mali is the eighth-largest country in Africa.
Mali is the eighth-largest country in Africa.

 

Malian opposition leader Mahmoud Dicko on Wednesday urged people to protest en masse on Friday, despite recent government overtures to the resurgent political opposition in the war-torn West African state.

Dicko, an influential imam, accused President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of ignoring tens of thousands of people who had protested on June 5, demanding his resignation.

“He hasn’t learned his lesson, he doesn’t listen to people,” Dicko told local media in his native Bambara language. “But this time he will understand.”

Keita announced on Tuesday that he would hold talks on establishing a unity government, in a move apparently intended to appease increasingly vocal opposition critics.

The president has been under pressure to solve a spiralling security crisis, which first broke out in the north of the Sahel country in 2012.

The violence has since spread to the centre of the country, inflaming ethnic tensions, as well as to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have died in the conflict, while hundreds of thousands more have had to flee their homes.

Failure to stop the bloodshed, as well as a flagging economy and a perception of widespread corruption, has fed support for opposition groups in Mali.

Dicko is an Islamic hardliner and one of the main leaders of the new so-called “June 5” movement, a coalition of opposition groups that takes its name from the mass anti-Keita demonstration held earlier this month.

“Nothing works in Mali and no part of the country is moving (forward),” Dicko said at a press conference in the capital Bamako on Wednesday.

“It’s time to stop the intimidation to make things move forward. We should unite to restore this country’s honour and dignity,” he added.

The presence of thousands of foreign troops in Mali has done little to slow the spate of jihadist attacks and ethnic killings across the poor former French colony of some 19 million people.

In the most recent large attack, on Sunday, militants killed 27 soldiers in an ambush in volatile central Mali.

Two local government officials were also kidnapped in the north of the country on Wednesday, according to an official from Mali’s territorial administration ministry, who suggested that either criminals or jihadists were responsible.

– Mounting discontent –
The June 5 rally in Bamako brought together religious leaders as well as figures from the country’s civil society.

It also followed sporadic demonstrations last month over the outcome of recent parliamentary elections — which Keita’s party won — as well as over coronavirus restrictions.

The government held the long-delayed parliamentary poll in March despite security concerns.

Electing new MPs was viewed as a key step towards enacting political reforms that could break Mali’s cycle of violence.

But the poll was marred by jihadist attacks as well as the kidnapping of opposition leader Soumaila Cisse.

In April, Mali’s constitutional court also overturned the results for some 30 disputed seats — of which about a dozen were awarded to candidates from Keita’s party in a decision that triggered protests in several Malian cities.

On Tuesday, Keita responded to mounting political pressure by announcing his intention to hold talks on forming a new unity government, as well as reforming the constitutional court and national assembly.

The president was non-committal but the announcement raised the possibility that opposition figures would be included in a future government.

Malawi Lawyers Protest As Chief Justice Forced To Retire Before Vote

Map of Malawi

 

Hundreds of lawyers demonstrated in Malawi on Wednesday against interference with the judiciary, after the president sent the country’s chief justice on early retirement two weeks before a historic election re-run.

Donning black gowns and dark cream wigs, they were joined by law students and lecturers on the streets of the capital Lilongwe and the cities of Blantyre, Zomba and Mzuzu.

Peter Mutharika’s office issued a notice on Friday sending the country’s chief justice Andrew Nyirenda into early retirement, 18 months before he was due to leave.

Nyirenda had led the Supreme Court decision which rejected Mutharika’s bid to overturn a landmark ruling quashing his controversial re-election.

In the judgement last month, Nyirenda said “some of the grounds for appeal were not just fictious but purely unprofessional, disrespectful and distasteful”.

The country returns to the polls on Tuesday for the new vote.

The lawyers carried banners and placards calling for the separation of powers, telling the executive “keep your hands off our judiciary”.

“Our courts should be able to deliver judgements freely and independently without interference,” said lawyer Bernadette Malunga, who led the Lilongwe march.

The decision by Mutharika’s administration sparked widespread criticism from lawyers’ and judges’ organisations in Malawi and abroad.

Main opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera said the president’s action was “a tragic case of interference” and alleged that it could be a “way of capturing the judiciary in anticipation” of a poll loss next week.

“It’s a very poor attempt that has greatly embarrassed him. They are trying to get justice perverted in this nation,” Chakwera said.

AFP

UK Protesters Call For Removal Of Cecil Rhodes Statue From Oxford

Demonstrators hold placards during a protest arranged by the 'Rhodes Must Fall' campaign, calling for the removal of a statue of British businessman and imperialist Cecil John Rhodes, from outside Oriel College at the University of Oxford in Oxford, west of London on June 9, 2020. Adrian DENNIS / AFP
Demonstrators hold placards during a protest arranged by the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign, calling for the removal of a statue of British businessman and imperialist Cecil John Rhodes, from outside Oriel College at the University of Oxford in Oxford, west of London on June 9, 2020. Adrian DENNIS / AFP

 

Thousands of people called on Tuesday for a statue of 19th century British imperialist Cecil Rhodes to be removed from an Oxford University college, as debate raged over the removal of other monuments to the nation’s colonial past.

Protesters chanted “Take it down” and “Decolonise”, and held placards urging “Rhodes Must Fall” and “Black Lives Matter” beneath the statue at Oriel College.

The “Rhodes Must Fall” movement, which began in South Africa, failed in a previous attempt to have the statue removed but has been revived by a wave of anti-racism protests.

Protesters sat with raised fists for nearly nine minutes in tribute to unarmed black man George Floyd, whose death in US police custody triggered outrage and condemnation worldwide.

Sylvanus Leigh, 44, said the limestone statue of the Victorian-era tycoon, who founded the De Beers diamond company in what is now Zimbabwe, represented “a colonial mindset”.

The care worker told AFP he could think of more deserving candidates for a statue. “Better to have Mother Teresa or Desmond Tutu,” he said.

The leader of Oxford City Council, Susan Brown, said it would be a “good thing” if Oriel, which was founded in 1326, applied for permission to remove the statue.

The college had to “find the right balance between the laws that protect our historic buildings and the moral obligation to reflect on the malign symbolism of this statue”, she added.

Local MP Layla Moran called Rhodes a “white supremacist who does not represent the values of Oxford in 2020”.

‘Uncomfortable truth’

The protest comes after activists toppled a statue to Edward Colton, a 17th century merchant who helped build the city of Bristol and played a leading role in slavery.

Years of local debate over what to do with the statue came to an end on Sunday when it was thrown in the harbour.

Campaigners in Wales are now demanding the removal of memorials to Napoleonic war hero Thomas Picton, who was accused of cruelty while serving as a governor in Trinidad.

In Scotland, activists have called for changes to the streets named after the 18th and 19th century tobacco and sugar traders who made their fortunes through slavery.

A central London statue of Winston Churchill was defaced, with protesters blaming his policies for the death of millions during famine in the Indian state of Bengal in 1943.

Mayor Sadiq Khan launched a review of city landmarks and street names, saying many reflected “a bygone era”, and could better reflect the capital’s diversity.

“It is an uncomfortable truth that our nation and city owes a large part of its wealth to its role in the slave trade,” he said.

Late on Tuesday, an east London council said it had removed a statue of Robert Milligan, whose family owned sugar plantations in Jamaica, from the Docklands district and added it would “review” other monuments in the borough “to understand how we should represent the more troubling periods in our history”.

‘Cold reality’

Despite widespread support, some warned of an attempt to erase the past.

“If you change the street names it’s easier to forget but it’s better to have signs underneath to talk about what these men did,” said student Kieran Weatherill, 24, in Glasgow.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he understood the “depth of emotion” triggered by Floyd’s death and the anger from black and ethnic minority groups about discrimination.

“We who lead and who govern simply can’t ignore those feelings because in too many cases, I am afraid, they will be founded on a cold reality,” he said in a video message Monday.

But he warned he would not tolerate vandalism or violence, after clashes near his Downing Street office left 35 police officers injured.

Johnson’s Conservatives have been embroiled in a number of scandals over their treatment of immigrants, and he has been accused of using racist language in his journalism.

However, he expressed pride in having what he claimed was the most diverse cabinet in British history, including interior minister Priti Patel, who on Monday told MPs how she had faced racial abuse as a child.

Katsina Residents Protest Kidnapping

 

Residents of Yan Tumaki town in Danmusa Local Government Area of Katsina State have taken to the streets to protest against insecurity, particularly kidnapping in their area.

The protest is coming hours after kidnappers visited the town and abducted a man identified as Alhaji Mansir Yusuf along with his daughter in the early hours of Tuesday.

A resident of the town told Channels Television that they were protesting what they described as the renewed and worsened insecurity in the area despite the presence of security operatives.

The protesters were seen burning tires and barricading the road linking Kankara and Katsina Local Government Areas.

On Sunday last week, 55-year-old chairman of the All Progressives Congress in Batsari Local Government Area, Abdulhamid Mamman Sani was killed by bandits in an attempt to kidnap him.

Black Boy Falls From Ninth Story Building In Brazil, Sparks Racism Protest

A demonstrator holds a sign reading "Black Lives Matter" in demand of justice for the death of five-year-old Miguel Otavio Santana da Silva, the son of a black maid who on June 2 fell from the ninth floor of a building while under the watch of his mother's white employer, in Recife, Pernambuco State, in northeastern Brazil, on June 5, 2020.  Leo Malafaia / AFP
A demonstrator holds a sign reading “Black Lives Matter” in demand of justice for the death of five-year-old Miguel Otavio Santana da Silva, the son of a black maid who on June 2 fell from the ninth floor of a building while under the watch of his mother’s white employer, in Recife, Pernambuco State, in northeastern Brazil, on June 5, 2020. Leo Malafaia / AFP

 

Hundreds of Brazilians marched Friday over the death of a black boy whose mother, a maid, had entrusted him to her white employer, in an echo of the protests racking the United States.

Five-year-old Miguel da Silva died Tuesday when he fell from the ninth story of the highrise where his mother worked in the city of Recife.

She had left him in the care of the white woman she worked for while she took the family dog for a walk.

Security camera footage played on Brazilian TV shows the white employer interacting with the boy as he stands inside the service elevator, then pushing the button for the top floor and leaving him inside alone.

Media reports said after exiting the elevator the boy climbed through a window, up a balcony railing and fell to his death.

The case triggered a Brazilian take on the protests sweeping the United States over racism and police brutality.

“Vidas negras importam” — “Black lives matter” — said signs carried by protesters in Recife, the capital of the northeastern state of Pernambuco.

“It’s important to be at this protest, because Miguel’s life represents the reality of lots of other black kids, the children of domestic workers. He could have been any one of us,” said protester Nathalia Ferreira.

Wearing face masks against the coronavirus pandemic and T-shirts with the boy’s picture, the protesters marched from the court of justice to the building where he died.

“We are worried this crime will be taken lightly and left unpunished. It is important that justice be done,” said Monica Oliveira of the Pernambuco Black Women’s Network.

As in the United States, race relations are fraught in Brazil, the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery.

Blacks make up 56 percent of Brazil’s population, but earn about half as much as whites on average, have lower life expectancy and according to activists face deeply ingrained discrimination.

France Braces For New Protests Against Police Brutality

Demonstrators, some wearing a protective face mask, raise their fists during a protest in Strasbourg, eastern France, on June 5, 2020, / AFP

 

France was bracing for a weekend of demonstrations against alleged brutality and racism by the police, a controversy that has gained resonance since protests erupted in the United States over the police killing of George Floyd.

A new protest has been called for Saturday near the Eiffel Tower in Paris under the slogans “Let us breathe”, “No justice, no peace”, echoing the words used since Floyd’s death sparked demonstrations across the US.

The call follows a tense 20,000-strong rally in Paris on Tuesday, remembering the death of black 24-year-old Adama Traore who died in police custody in 2016.

Demonstrators, some wearing a protective face mask, raise their fists during a protest in Strasbourg, eastern France, on June 5, 2020, /AFP

His death has long been a rallying cause for critics of the French police.

French authorities have banned two demonstrations against police brutality planned on Saturday in front of the United States’ embassy in Paris, citing a coronavirus restriction on gatherings of more than 10 people.

There are also calls for demonstrations in Marseille, Bordeaux, Lille, Nantes and Metz.

Adding to tensions, the contents of a private Facebook group reserved for police members were published by the online media SteetPress on Thursday.

In the group, police officers repeatedly use racist and sexist terms and mock victims of police brutality.

“If the facts are proven to be true, these comments are unacceptable and seriously damage the honour of the police,” said Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.

Paris prosecutors quickly opened a preliminary investigation after a call from the minister.

He had pledged on Wednesday that “every mistake, every excess, every word including racist expressions” by police would be “the subject of an investigation, a decision, a punishment”.

– ‘Wake up’ –
In another embarrassment, reports said a black police officer filed a complaint against six white colleagues in December 2019, after discovering an abundance of racist messages on a private Whatsapp group, often concerning him.

The officers involved will face a disciplinary hearing, national police chief Frederic Veaux told AFP on Thursday.

“The French police isn’t racist,” he said. “It suffers from behaviour which in no way corresponds to the republican values it defends.”

Government officials say incidents of racism are the deplorable actions of individuals, whereas critics say there is a systemic problem.

Black actor Omar Sy — best known for this role in the 2011 comedy “The Untouchables” — weighed in on the debate on Thursday, calling on the French to “wake up” and drawing parallels between the deaths of George Floyd and Adama Traore.

– Medical reports –
“Like Adama Traore, I ran when I crossed the path of the police. I didn’t have an open microphone to say how real the fear of dying in the hands of the police is,” Sy said.

Traore ran from the police during a dispute over an identity check, before being apprehended.

He died after he was pinned to the ground with the combined body weight of three arresting officers, according to the testimony of one of them.

Last Friday, French medical experts said Traore did not die of “positional suffocation”, ruling out the officers pinning him to the ground as the cause of his death.

But on Tuesday, a new probe commissioned by the Traore family said his death was indeed caused by the arrest technique used.