Jérôme Rodrigues’s lawyer says he was injured by ‘flash-ball’ riot police weapon
Kim Willsher in Paris
A gilets jaunes (yellow vests) demonstrator injured in the eye at a demonstration in Paris will be disabled for life, his lawyer has said.
Jérôme Rodrigues, a high-profile member of the protest movement, claims he was struck by a “flash-ball”, a launcher used by French riot police to fire large rubber pellets. They have been blamed for dozens of injuries, some serious, including the loss of an eye.
Investigators are looking into the incident after police reportedly insisted Rodrigues’s injuries were caused by a crowd-control grenade that exploded near him, a version of events his lawyer “categorically” denied.
Rodrigues was injured at Place de la Bastille on Saturday afternoon, during an 11th weekend of demonstrations by the gilets jaunes in Paris. Witnesses said the police used flash-balls, “sting-ball” crowd dispersal grenades and tear gas while protesters calling for the French president, Emmanuel Macron, to resign threw projectiles at them
There have been calls for French police to be banned from using the flash-ball launchers, and last week the interior minister, Christophe Castaner, ordered officers carrying them to wear body cameras.
Witnesses were reported to have picked up the projectile that struck Rodrigues and handed it to investigators. Internal police investigators have launched an inquiry, as has the Paris prosecutor. More than 80 similar inquiries have been launched following serious injuries or legal complaints during gilets jaunes protests.
Rodrigues’s lawyer, Philippe de Veulle, told BFM television: “He will be disabled for life. It’s a tragedy for him and his family.” De Veulle said he was lodging a complaint against police for “voluntary violence by a person of public authority” because Rodrigues was allegedly struck with one of the 40mm hard rubber projectiles.
On Sunday, Rodrigues, conscious and speaking to LCI television from hospital, said he was also hit by a sting-ball grenade, another controversial riot control tool used to disperse crowds.
“Everything happened very quickly. They threw a grenade at me and I took a [rubber] bullet. I was attacked twice – a grenade to the foot and the bullet,” he said. He accused police of carrying out “all the violence the rules permit”. “I’m going to take legal action against Mr Macron, Mr Castaner and against the police officer who shot at me … I remain firmly pacifist whatever happens.”
A “yellow night” event, organised by protesters at Place de la République in central Paris on Saturday evening, was broken up by police who used tear gas and water cannon.
The gilets jaunes movement started last November in protest over a proposed eco-tax on fuel, but has since grown to embody a wider expression of grievances against Macron and his centrist administration. It is named after the hi-vis vests French motorists must carry in their vehicles, and which the protesters wear.
The interior ministry estimated 69,000 people turned out for “act 11” of the protests across France on Saturday, compared with 84,000 the previous week. Protesters have not provided their own figures. Last week, a leading member of the movement, which has no official leaders or organisation behind it, announced it would field 79 candidates in May’s European parliament elections.
On Sunday, an anti-gilets jaunes event was organised to “defend democracy and (republican) institutions” in Paris. The marchers, calling themselves the “red scarves”, chanted “on a rien cassé” (we’ve not smashed anything). Others shouted “Yes to democracy, no to revolution” as they waved French and European Union flags. They said they were demonstrating against the violence at recent gilets jaunes protests, including attacks on politicians and journalists.
Laurent Soulie, an organiser of the march, said the protesters responded to a call to the “silent majority who have remained holed up at home for 10 weeks.”
Police estimated that despite the rain about 10,500 people turned out. The previous day, 4,000 gilets jaunes protested in Paris, police estimated.