French hold protests against police violence


Paris (AFP)

Thousands of people gathered across France on Saturday to protest at racism and police violence as public anger grows after a raft of complaints against officers and in the wake of the death of George Floyd in the United States.

Several thousand people congregated in central Paris mid-afternoon to answer a call to protest by a pressure group representing Adama Traore, a young black man who died in police custody in 2016.

The rallies came at the end of week when France's police watchdog said it had received almost 1,500 complaints against officers last year -- half of them for alleged violence.

Traore's sister Assa Traore called on those attending the rally to "denounce the denial of justice, denounce social, racial, police violence," renewing a call for an investigation into her sibling's death.

"The death of George Floyd -- this Afro-American killed on May 25 in Minneapolis by a white policeman -- is a direct echo of my brother's death. It's the same thing in France, our brothers are dying," she said, vowing to continue the fight for justice.

A number of marchers held aloft banners reading "justice for Adama".

Other banners read "In the country of human rights the police kill."

Binta Kamara, 18, said she had come "to support black people, minorities, to show solidarity. I am young and the future belongs to us. We have to change things."

Elisa, a 27-year-old student, said she did not routinely favour an "anti-cop discourse" but added it was "clear there is a problem of racism and fear of the police today."

Other rallies were being held in cities from Marseille and Montpellier in the south to Nantes and Bordeaux in the west.

- Amnesty appeal -

French President Emmanuel Macron, due to address the nation on Sunday, notably on the easing of lockdowns, had Thursday noted the need not to "lose the youth" as feelings run ever higher in the wake of the Floyd case.

Macron on Wednesday dubbed racism "an illness which touches all society."

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has promised "zero tolerance" of racism in law enforcement, saying it is clear some officers "have failed in their Republican duty", citing several instances of racist and discriminatory remarks" that have come to light.

Amnesty International meanwhile appealed for "a systematic reform of police practices" in France.

"The seriousness of the situation requires a global response from the authorities," read a statement from the NGO.

But some police have spoken out against the portrayal of the police as racist.

Frederic Lagache of the police union Alliance said he hoped Macron would receive a delegation as many officers felt their "honour had been injured" over the widespread criticism of the force.