Opposition Accuses French Interior Minister Over Yellow Vest Violence

By Reuters
March 19, 2019 Updated: March 19, 2019

PARIS—Opposition leaders accused French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, an ally of President Emmanuel Macron, of incompetence after he said on March 19 he was unaware of policing decisions made during rioting on the Champs Elysees.

After another flare-up of violence in Saturday’s yellow vest protest, which left the landmark Paris avenue looking like a battleground, calls for heads to roll have grown in France, despite its traditional tolerance for street protests. Rioters set fire to a bank and ransacked stores.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe sacked Paris police Chief Michel Delpuech on March 18 and two other officials, his chief of staff Pierre Gaudin and Frederic Dupuch of the local police force, a police source said.

But politicians piled pressure on Castaner who has been in the job for five months. He was booed in parliament before an expected grilling from lawmakers.

“The Paris police chief is only a fall guy supposed to cover for Castaner’s blatant incompetence,” Jordan Bardella, right-wing Marine Le Pen’s candidate for European elections, said on Twitter.

Castaner faced criticism from opposition politicians after a video of him dancing in a trendy Paris nightclub on the night of the violence surfaced in French media.

Castaner told French radio a tougher police approach, decided after rioters looted shops on the Champs Elysees in early December 2018, had not been applied on March 16 as he had ordered.

He said he was only made aware that senior police officials had instructed their teams on the ground to hold back on using flash-balls when he visited a police station near the Champs Elysees on March 17.

France has long taken a tolerant approach to protests; farmers have poured manure in front of ministries, and trade unions have held creative demonstrations.

But the violent, balaclava-clad protesters among the yellow vest demonstrators for such a sustained period has forced the government to introduce increasingly tough policing tactics.

By Julie Carriat