Use of anti-riot weaponry soars in France

The use of controversial anti-riot weaponry by French police soared in 2018 amid the onset of the Yellow Vest protests, figures released Thursday showed.

French police fired more than 19,000 rounds from so-called ‘flashball’ guns – weapons that launch a rubber ball at high velocity – in 2018, a rise of 203 percent on the year before.

The use of stun grenades, meanwhile increased by nearly 300 percent, with 5.420 used during the year, Brigitte Jullien, director of France’s police disciplinary body, told a news conference.

The Yellow Vest protests, which began in November last year, have brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to the streets of major cities across France and frequently led to often fierce clashes with police.

Use of anti-riot weaponry during these clashes has been linked to dozens of injuries, some of them severe including protesters who have lost an eye or had limbs mutilated.

The continued use of the weaponry by French police has led to criticism by human rights defenders both in France and internationally.

In March this year, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called for an investigation into reports of “excessive use of force” by French police during the Yellow Vest protests.

The French government though has defended the weapons’ use, with French Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nuñez insisting that “the police’s response is always proportionate”.