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France bans tear gas grenade blamed for maiming dozens of anti-govt. protesters

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Yellow Vest protester hold a banner reading "together everything is possible" take part in a demonstration in Lyon on January 24, 2020 as part of a nationwide multi-sector strike against the French government's pensions overhaul. (Photo by AFP)

France has banned police forces from using tear gas grenades loaded with explosives, which have on many occasions severely injured or maimed anti-government protesters, amid pressure on Paris over its failure to rein in police brutality.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner in an interview with French media on Sunday tried to defend the controversial use of the GLI-F4 grenade, which explodes with a loud, powerful blast to release a cloud of tear gas. Each shell contains 26 grams of TNT.

“It happened, a few months ago, that police were obliged to use them (the grenades) to extricate themselves from a threat, and that protesters who picked them up were seriously injured.”

“This is why I think we need to withdraw the GLI-F4,” he said.

Arié Alimi, a lawyer who represents several victims of police violence, welcomed the “excellent decision” but said it “should have been made a lot earlier.”

“These grenades had stopped being made but (police) kept on using them for maintaining order and they continued to injure many victims, people who have lost an eye or a hand, people who have been deeply wounded in their lives and their flesh,” he told BFMTV.

Antoine Boudinet — who lost a hand from such a grenade in December 2018 in a ‘Yellow Vest’ protest in Bordeaux — said that its removal was good news but insufficient as “the entire policy of public order policing in France needs to be reformed.”

According to journalist David Dufresne, who has been keeping a tally of police violence cases, GLI-F4 caused 33 injuries, including five hands being blown off, since the start of the Yellow Vest revolt in October 2018.

Earlier, a law suit was launched by the Human Rights League and the CGT labor union to ban police from using the GLI-F4 grenades as well as the handheld “defensive ball launcher,” known by its French initials “LBD,” which fires 40-millimeter rubber projectiles. The lawsuit was rejected by the Council of State – France’s highest court for administrative justice.

In the meantime, French police have come under heavy criticism for more than 200 reported cases of police brutality against protesters.

A string of recent videos showing police violence have gone viral on social media, including one this month of an officer firing a rubber bullet at point-blank range and in recent days, a riot officer punching a blood-stained protester pinned on his back at a Paris demonstration, which prompted an investigation.

French police used rubber bullets 9,228 times, according to official statistics. Police say they have suffered injuries and come under mortal threat, too.

President Emmanuel Macron earlier this month warned police that “unacceptable behavior” of some officers risked undermining the “credibility and dignity” of the force. 

The Yellow Vests protest movement started in November 2018 over a retracted increase in the price of gasoline.

More recently, clashes have been reported between police and striking workers rallying against planned pension reforms in one of the biggest protest movements to hit the country in years. It has been affecting rail, road and air transportation.

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