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French protests against police violence move to central Paris

Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP | Protesters demonstrate against police brutality on February 18, 2017 on the Place de la République, Paris.

Anti-racism groups and other protesters rallied in Paris on Saturday to support victims of police violence after a young black man was allegedly raped with a police baton earlier this month.

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Paris police installed a security perimeter around Saturday's rally on the Place de la République in eastern Paris. Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, meanwhile, urged the government to ban the protest out of respect for police who are ensuring public safety in France during the country's ongoing state of emergency.

Demonstrators carried banners reading "Justice for Théo," the name of the 22-year-old alleged rape victim, and called for justice in the investigation. The protesters argue that Théo is just one example of many young men unfairly targeted by police in ID checks and sometimes abused.

“There’s a lot of support for Théo,” FRANCE 24’s Julia Kim said on Saturday. “We’re seeing 1,000, possibly 2,000 people. “Police have closed all access into the Place de la République … but all-in-all it seems rather calm.”

Théo, whose last name has not been released, was hospitalised for two weeks after the reported attack in his hometown of Aulnay-sous-Bois northeast of Paris. A local youth worker, Theo has become a symbol for minorities who stand up to police violence.

One officer has been charged with rape in the case, and three others with aggravated assault. All deny intentional wrongdoing.

After an apparent video of the attack circulated online, angry youths torched cars and clashed with police for several days in suburbs around Paris. The violence was reminiscent of riots in 2005 that exposed France's long-running problems between youths in public housing projects and police.

“This event (Théo's alleged rape) sparked more than 10 days of protests all across France,” FRANCE 24’s Kim added. “The banlieues have seen almost non-stop riots and protests.”

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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