'Hits like Tyson': 'Flash-Ball' guns became symbol of police brutality against Yellow Vests

Human rights activists have renewed efforts to ban 'less-lethal' guns that riot police use against protesters in France. Known as 'Flash-Balls,' they grew to symbolize the weapon of choice in the fight against the yellow vests.

"The lack of sufficient guarantees in the French law undermines the constitutional right of life and the respect for physical safety," the Human Rights League wrote in an appeal to the Council of State this week. The nonprofit seeks to ban the use of controversial 'defense ball launchers' (LBDs), commonly known as 'Flash-Balls,' by police against protesters.

The Council, which acts as the nation's highest administrative court, had earlier dismissed the call to ban the device, saying that LBDs are "necessary" and "particularly appropriate" for tackling violence during rallies. The human rights campaigners, appealing this decision, argue that 'Flash-Balls' are dangerous as they often cause serious injuries.

Such weapons are prohibited in riot control in most Western European countries, but French law enforcemers had been equipped with them for decades.

Urban warfare

Marketed as 'less-lethal' or 'non-lethal,' the original Flash-Ball launchers were developed by the French firearms company Verney-Carron. The police got the first batch of 500 LBDs in 1995. They fired ping-pong-sized balls and were intended to counter urban violence. Flash-Ball "delivers punches like Mike Tyson," its creator, ballistic expert Pierre Richert, said at the time. He noted that the projectiles "hurt but do less damage than a police pistol."

The current Swiss-made model, LBD 40, shoots 40mm (1.6-inch) rubber or foam slugs at a speed of up to 100 meters per second. It can also launch tear gas and stun grenades.

The weapon has been used extensively to quell civil disturbances since the 2000s, most notably during the devastating 2005 Paris suburbs riots. Early on, human rights campaigners and the media had been raising red flags against 'Flash-Balls' as evidence mounted that they cause serious injuries. Over the years, several people have been killed after getting hit by projectiles.

In 2010, Mustapha Ziani died of cardiac arrest after an officer shot him in the chest with a Flash-Ball during an altercation at his home in Marseille. Following an outcry, the officer got a six-month suspended sentence for manslaughter.

A 2006 study said that, despite being designed to avoid skin penetration, 'Flash-Ball' guns "may still create major trauma with associated severe injuries to internal organs." The researchers observed two patients hit by the slugs: both required medical treatment, while one was hospitalized for contusions to his heart and lungs.

Similarly, staffers at the Nantes University Hospital who studied Flash-Ball-induced trauma concluded that "the relative low risk of this weapon may be questioned in real life," as its impact "may produce distant and severe injury."

Another French study from 2015 examined the case of a healthy 34-year-old man who was shot by a Flash-Ball during a riot. He sustained "serious" skull and brain injuries, which required two months of treatment and rehabilitation. Flash-Ball is "potentially lethal" and dangerous, particularly if shot in the head, the researchers wrote.

Blood on yellow

The police have used LBDs more than 9,200 times since the Yellow Vest protests began in November. Initially a grassroots movement against planned fuel-tax hikes, the rallies grew to include calls for the resignation of President Emmanuel Macron. They often descended into fierce street battles with police, with multiple injuries on both sides. Recent rallies saw protesters denouncing 'Flash-Balls,' which have become the symbol of police brutality.

At least 20 people lost their eyes from slugs and exploding stun grenades launched from LBDs, according to anti-police brutality group Desarmons-Les! The group documented more than 120 cases of people they say were injured by police using 'less lethal' weapons, mostly LBD 40s. Many victims sustained facial injuries, like broken noses and cheekbone fractures, after being reportedly hit by projectiles.

https://cdni.rt.com/files/2019.02/original/5c5d7d35dda4c849508b457a.jpg© AFP / Zakaria Abdelkafi

One of the 'faces' of police brutality during the Yellow Vest protests is 20-year-old Fiorina L. The young woman lost the sight in her left eye from a gas-grenade explosion on Avenue des Champs-Elysees in December.

Fiorina des Gilets Jaunes, éborgnée sur les Champs-Élysées par un projectile tiré par la police.

Another prominent protester, Jerome Rodrigues, injured his eye a month later when a riot control grenade exploded near him.

"The mutilated people must receive their apologies…" he told RT. "[I] saw a police officer armed with traumatic weapons, with no camera on him."

I will lose my eye': Yellow Vest activist suffers horrific injury in Paris protests...

Despite the outcry, France's police chief Eric Morvan said that using LBD 40s during the Yellow Vest protests was justified. The weapon "may be an appropriate response to deter or neutralize" a violent or dangerous person, he said, noting that LBDs should be used only when necessary. He stressed that officers should only aim for the torso and limbs.

"The LBD is a scary weapon," one officer's testimony read. "If they're taken away from us, no more colleagues will want to work at demonstrations."

Swiss company Brugger & Thomet, which produces LBD 40s, also stood by the weapon, praising it as "precise and effective." The launcher shoots with a "low risk" of injury, but may fire inaccurately if loaded with wrong munitions, the manufacturer explained.

Also on rt.com Look into their eyes: Yellow Vests march through Paris blaming police for bloody violence (VIDEOS)...

The calls to put an end to 'Flash-Balls' at rallies has gathered support on social media.

"These serious injuries are criminal acts. We must ban this barbarism," one commenter wrote.

"Whenever I look at how this weapon is used, it's not used in a defensive situation, despite what the officials are saying," another said. "It's always pointed at the faces, which is prohibited."


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French police talk about shooting Yellow Vest protesters in a leaked tape

Police in the city of Toulouse came under fire after several officers were caught on tape discussing plans to “shoot” the protesters involved in clashes.

The comments were made in the police command room, as broadcaster France 3 reported, where the officers were watching an intense standoff between police and the demonstrators unfolding on the streets of Toulouse.

While the officers aren’t seen in the video, the voices are heard saying “What a bunch of bastards!” and “The f***ers!”, when the clashes turned violent.

Then a female officer is heard saying, “But you have to shoot!” and the other male officer replying, “When I tell you to, line up two or three rounds.”

contre toute attente, plus de 10000 personnes dans les rues de Toulouse. Place du capitole , des collègues épuisés essuient les charges des manifestants. Surpris, émus et estomaqués, des policiers de la salle de commandement appellent à « tirer des bastos ». 1/2

The video was recorded during the Yellow Vests protest on January 12, but was only released recently when the French police labor union Vigi posted it on Twitter. The union distanced themselves from the comments in the footage saying “the words of the policemen have exceeded their thoughts”.

Twitter users have also slammed police officers for their words.

Meanwhile, the Haute-Garonne prefecture released a statement where they called the protests unfolding on the police screens a “scene of rare violence,” which provoked the police officers’ “spontaneous comments.” It has opened an investigation into the “illegal capture of images and sound” in the Police Command and Information Center.

Also on rt.com Police employ tear gas & water cannons as Yellow Vest protests enter 9th week (VIDEOS)...

The leaked video comes in the wake of criticism of the French police’s tactics during the Yellow Vests protests, which have been rocking French cities since November. The police used water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets against the protesters, resulting in some serious injuries.

One of the leaders of the Yellow Vests movement, Jerome Rodrigues, was left blind in one eye after being hit by a rubber-ball projectile. Officials estimate around 2000 protesters have been injured since protests began on November 17.


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Thousands Of "Yellow Vests" Back On France's Streets To Challenge Macron

Paris: Thousands of "yellow vest" protesters returned to the streets of France Saturday to protest against President Emmanuel Macron's policies, clashing with police in several cities in a challenge to his bid to quell the movement.

Police fired tear gas and water cannon to push back protesters at Place de la Bastille in Paris, one of the regular protest sites, as some demonstrators threw stones from a building site.

The local prefecture reported 223 arrests in Paris.

The interior ministry estimated numbers for the 11th week of protests were at 69,000 across France, compared to 84,000 last Saturday.

In Paris, the official count was 4,000 demonstrators against 7,000 the previous weekend.

Clashes erupted too in western France in Nantes and Evreux and in the southern city of Montpellier, where a police officer was injured by "a pyrotechnic device" said a statement from the local prefecture.

In Paris and other cities, the yellow vest movement had called to continue the protests into the night. But police quickly dispersed several hundred protesters in the capital's symbolic Republique square using tear gas, water cannon and stun grenades to clear the area, AFP journalists said.

The protests erupted in mid-November over Macron's economic reforms, but have since grown into a wider rallies calling for the resignation of the former investment banker who critics say is out of touch with the economic struggles of ordinary French people.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner on Twitter criticised "rioters disguised as yellow vest protesters" after Saturday's clashes.

'Keep the pressure on'

The weekend's protests against Macron's tax and social policies came as divisions appeared among the yellow vests -- named after the high-visibility vests they wear -- as to where to take the movement.

In a new political development, a 31-year-old nurse named Ingrid Levavasseur said this week she would lead a yellow vest list of candidates for the European elections in May.

An initial survey in the wake of the announcement suggested they would garner a respectable 13 percent of the vote.

But not every protester appeared to welcome this development.

"There is a hard core that is ready to keep fighting," said 42-year-old Gilbert Claro from the Paris suburbs. But the movement "is not meant to be political", he added.

"We have to keep the pressure on in the streets," to get their demands accepted, said Virginie, an activist in her 40s who said she had been involved in the protests from the beginning.

She and many other protesters want a citizen-sponsored referendum so ordinary people can have more of a say in government policy.

This idea has been consistently rejected by the government, although Macron made some concessions last December in a bid to end the protests.

Recent opinion polls suggest that he has regained some of the ground lost during the crisis, as he has put his case at a series of town hall events around the country.

The "great national debate" he initiated in response to the protests has nevertheless been dismissed as a public relations operation by many yellow vest protesters.

A "masquerade", said Mathieu Styrna, a 36-year-old carpenter from northern France in Paris for the protests. His impression, he said, was that the participants had been selected.

Night protests

Outside Paris, several thousand protesters were marching in Bordeaux and Toulouse in the southwest, two of the cities where support for the movement has been consistently strong.

In Bordeaux, police fired tear gas and water canon to break up small groups of protesters tossing fireworks and bottles as night fell.

In the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, members of the CGT union joined the protests and about a thousand protesters turned out in the eastern city of Lyon.

In the north, officials in the city of Evreux, Normandy, reported clashes there and damage to the police and Banque de France buildings.

For the first time on Saturday, riot police using controversial defence ball launchers (LBDs) that shoot 40-millimetre (1.6-inch) rubber and foam rounds were equipped with cameras.

A French court on Friday refused a bid brought by France's League for Human Rights (LDH) and the CGT to ban the weapons, blamed for serious injuries suffered by some demonstrators.

The police authority in Paris announced the introduction of the cameras in a move for greater transparency.

On Sunday, supporters of the government will stage their first "red scarf" protest to represent what they say is "the silent majority" defending "democracy and its institutions" and denouncing the violence of the yellow vests protests.

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Clashes Erupt In Paris As Yellow Vest Protests Enter 10th Week

Paris: Scuffles broke out on Saturday as around 7,000 "yellow vest" demonstrators marched through Paris in a 10th consecutive weekend of protests against President Emmanuel Macron's government.

The demonstrations were largely peaceful but Reuters Television reporters said they saw clashes break out late in the afternoon between police and demonstrators, some wearing masks, in Paris' Invalides district.

Protesters threw firecrackers, bottles and stones at the police who responded with water canon and tear gas to push them back.

Officials said there were around 7,000 demonstrators in Paris and 27,000 across France.

A Reuters reporter also said there had been clashes in the southern port city of Marseille, while similar demonstrations took place in other cities across France.

"Macron, resign!" some of the protesters shouted.

Some also carried mock coffins symbolising the 10 people who have died during the protests, mainly due to accidents when demonstrators blocked roads.

The "yellow vest" protests - which make use of fluorescent jackets French motorists are required to carry in their cars - began in November over higher fuel taxes.

Those fuel taxes were subsequently scrapped, yet the movement has morphed into a broader anti-Macron protest.

December's demonstrations wreaked some of the worst violence seen in decades in Paris, as rioters burned cars and damaged shops and businesses.

Protests this month have not witnessed the same level of trouble, although video of a former French boxing champion punching and kicking police in Paris shocked many.

Macron has launched a series of national debates to help quell public discontent and restore his standing.

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Macron's 'grand national debate' starting today is like 'SLEEPING GAS,' Yellow Vests say

French President Emmanuel Macron hopes to use nationwide debates, set to kick off on Tuesday, to tackle anger emanating from the Yellow Vests, but protesters and the opposition remain skeptical that he seeks genuine change.

By launching "grand national debates," the president has promised to reach out to citizens and listen to everyone. "For me there is no banned issue," Macron wrote in an open letter to the nation, published on Monday.

We won't agree on everything, which is normal in a democracy. But at least, we will show that we are a people who are not afraid of talking, exchanging, debating.

The first round of the debates is set to kick off in the northern town of Grand Bourgtheroulde on Tuesday, with the president expected to attend. He is scheduled to hold a meeting with 600 mayors and local officials there.

Macron hopes that a frank nationwide discussion will lead to reconciliation with the Yellow Vest protesters whose massive rallies have been rocking Paris and other towns across France since November. Started as a grassroots movement against planned fuel tax hikes, the Yellow Vests evolved into broader voice to vent the anger towards the government. Their demands grew to include the resignation of President Macron.

The clashes with police and the chaotic atmosphere during the rallies have left at least 10 people dead and more than a thousand have been detained.

Also on rt.com Police employ tear gas & water cannons as Yellow Vest protests enter 9th week (VIDEOS)...

In his letter, Macron offered to answer a variety of questions, such as which taxes should be lowered and whether France should have more referendums.

Some of the issues put up for debate were ostensibly not connected with the recent protests, like the question over whether the government should set annual immigration targets.

The protests have already prompted Macron to offer concessions. He promised a minimum wage rise and to roll back the planned fuel tax hike. While pledging more dialogue on Monday, the president emphasized that he will not allow a complete redo of his pro-business reforms and won't return the scrapped wealth tax.

"We're not replaying the election," the government's spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux explained.

This attitude led the opposition to believe that Macron just wishes to tweak the system a little bit, instead of fixing it. Leader of the left-wing La France Insoumise, Jean-Luc Melenchon, dismissed the 'grand debate' as a "big diversion," suggesting that the government had already decided its outcome.

The issues singled out for discussion are "limited" and it is unclear who will be organizing the process, noted Marine Le Pen of the right-wing National Rally (formerly the National Front). The government has been announcing policies before the talks even started, she said.

Also on rt.com Organizer of Macron’s ‘grand debate’ with Yellow Vests defends her ‘shocking’ €176,000 salary...

The Yellow Vests and regular citizens don't feel too enthusiastic either. Many are skeptical of the government's intentions and doubt that Macron has a real desire to listen.

"We don't care about the national debate because we know it won't change anything," a Yellow Vests activist told RT. Others suspect the whole approach is designed simply to placate popular anger.

In demonstrations they use tear gas against protesters. This national debate is like sleeping gas.

The proposed discussion will be "useless" because the officials stated that they won't review anything done in the last 18 months of Macron's presidency.

Yellow Vests campaigner Elodie Crisias told RT France that the protesters would like to put all issues up for referendums, but the French officials already indicated that it is impossible.

"In the end, the government and Emmanuel Macron don't hear what we, the French people and the Yellow Vests, want. In a democracy, all decisions are made by the people, but in this case we can't decide on anything."

President Macron had earlier been accused of being out of touch when trying to tackle the protests. Last week, he was roasted for saying that many French citizens think it is possible to "obtain something without proper effort."

The timing of the debates also coincides with the upcoming crackdown on the unauthorized protests, announced earlier by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe. The measures are expected to tackle “continued unacceptable violence” across the country, Philippe’s office said.

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Emmanuel Macron Pens 2,300-Word Letter To Quell "Yellow Vest" Unrest

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday kicked off a three-month national debate he hopes can quell the "yellow vest" unrest with a letter to the French in which he pledged to listen to new ideas but stuck to his core economic reform agenda.

Macron's initiative comes after nine weeks of protests by the "yellow vests" -- named after the high-visibility jackets they wear. The disparate anti-government uprising has wreaked havoc in Paris and French cities, shaken the economy and challenged his authority.

"For me, there is no banned issue. We won't agree on everything, which is normal in a democracy. But at least we'll show we're a people which is not afraid of talking, exchanging, debating," Macron wrote in the letter published by his office.

But Macron said he would remain faithful to his campaign manifesto, and appeared to rule out rolling back some of the pro-business economic reforms, such as scrapping a wealth tax, which have earned him the nickname "president of the rich".

"When taxes are too high, our economy is starved of the resources that could be usefully invested in companies, creating jobs and growth," Macron wrote.

"We will not undo the measures we have introduced to put this right, encourage investment and ensure that work pays more."

In the 2,330-word letter, to be published in French newspapers, he also asked a series of questions he hoped the French will answer in town hall meetings across the country or in online questionnaires.

Below are some of the questions Macron asked:

- Which taxes do you think we should cut?

- What kind of public spending savings do you think we should make a priority?

- Are there too many administrative layers?

- Should we use referendums more often and who should be able to trigger them?

Macron said proposals made during the debate will help build a new "contract for the nation" and influence government policy-making and France's stance on European and international issues.

He said he would give his own conclusions within a month of the end of the debate on March 15, but did not mention a possible referendum on his policies, an idea floated privately by some in his administration.

"This is how I intend to turn anger into solutions," he said.

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French Govt. Increases Security Forces in Yellow Vests Protest

Paris, Jan 12 (Prensa Latina) French authorities will strengthen security for the yellow vest movement protests, reaching this ninth consecutive Saturday of actions across the country.

Over 80,000 policemen and gendarmes will be mobilized throughout the country, 5,000 of whom will be in Paris, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced.

The aim is to prevent the violent clashes that happened in the most recent demonstrations between the security forces and some demonstrators, he said.

The issue generates a strong controversy because during mobilizations there has been car, motorcycle and garbage dump burning, setting-off of firecrackers, as well as the use of tear gas and rubber bullets by the police.

Facing such events, the major figures of the yellow vest movement insist that rioters are small groups of people who do not represent the majority, which adopts a position of peaceful reclamation before the authorities.

They also denounce that government and media focus on these violent incidents to justify the police attack and to distort the essence of the mobilization.

On the other hand, the Paris police prefect, Michel Delpuech, indicated in statements to TV that massive demonstrations are expected for this Saturday, with a much higher attendance than last Saturday.

The director general of the National Police, Éric Morvan, said in statements to Radio France Inter that 'we foresee a return to a level of mobilization similar to that seen before the Christmas holidays.

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France's crackdown on protesters: 'Govt has nothing to offer except blood, sweat & tears'

In democracy, you can't ban people from expressing their opinions and anger during a demonstration, publisher and writer Aymeric Monville told RT, commenting on the French government's plan to crack down on unsanctioned protests.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Monday that tougher punishments will be introduced for rioters with 80,000 members of the security forces to be deployed next weekend. The government plans to draft new legislation that will ban troublemakers from marches and clamp down on the wearing of masks at demonstrations.

Publisher and writer Aymeric Monville told RT that the spirit of this new law is "to treat the demonstrators like they were hooligans."

Read more French PM says new, tougher laws on unauthorized protests coming in wake of Yellow Vest clashes
French PM says new, tougher laws on unauthorized protests coming in wake of Yellow Vest clashes

"In France you can prevent hooligans from going to the football match; it will be the same with the demonstrators. The problem in the democracy – you can't ban people from expressing their opinion and anger during a demonstration; it is completely silly," he said.

While the announced government measures against violence in the protest movement received mixed reactions, President Emmanuel Macron's plan for a nationwide public debate also received a lot of attention. 

On Tuesday, the official appointed by the government to lead a national debate quit following a controversy over her salary. It was revealed that the former sports minister, Chantal Jouanno, was paid over €14,000 per month to head France's National Commission for Public Debate.

That is while many protesters "can't feed their children," Monville noted.

"It is so blatant, it is like at the time of the absolute monarchy – Marie-Antoinette [allegedly] said if people don't have bread, let them eat cake – if they don't have bread, let them debate," he said.

"The government doesn't have anything to offer except blood, sweat and tears."

Monville said that philosopher Luc Ferry, who was close to government circles, suggested the police should be allowed to use guns on protesters. "But people are not cattle; as human beings they can respond… You can slip into a civil war. It is a very risky situation, because the government doesn't have any answer," Monville argued.

Commenting on the violence during the recent Yellow Vests protests, Monville said it is necessary to distinguish between two kinds of protesters.

"You have the violence on the streets, you have burnt cars – they have nothing to do with the real movement. The Yellow Vests' pressure is to block the roundabouts, all refineries… to block the economy. And that is what annoys the government and big businesses in France."

That is the violence they cannot stand and will impose state violence against it, he said.

Also on rt.com Fall of Empires: London, Washington & Paris on brink of collapse (by George Galloway)....

Yellow Vests split

RT also discussed the latest demonstrations and the PM's announcement with Dr. Paul Smith, associate professor in French and Francophone Studies at the University of Nottingham, who believes that there is a split within the Yellow Vests movement.

"This weekend might have been a tipping point… there is clearly within the Yellow Vest movement a split between the very hard liners, the men and women of violence,  and those who want this to be a peaceful demonstration," he said.  

He noted that on Sunday there was a big demonstration by women in yellow vests insisting on the peaceful aspect of the Gilets Jaunes movement. He also pointed out that the moderates within the movement are talking about founding their own political party to press their issues and ideas in a peaceful way.

Read more The Emerging: Yellow Vest ex-rep seeks to create political party of ‘common sense’
The Emerging: Yellow Vest ex-rep seeks to create political party of ‘common sense’

"Whereas there is still this hardcore and someone might not even be authentic Gilet Jaunes, quite a lot of anarchist troublemakers are involved in and, not to say, extreme alt-right elements involved as well," he added.  

Commenting on the French PM's statement on security measures, Smith said that "the prime minster [is] saying we are not going to be pushed around, the rule of law will continue."  

According to Smith, some of the crowds are "legitimate Gilet Jaunes" while there also are "professional protesters, black blocs, the anarchist movement."

"On the alt-right there are even some who are kind of a leftover of protests against other legislation from the previous presidency. This is kind of an amalgamation of the anti-everybody league. Plus legitimate Gilets Jaunes who are involved as well. And it is very much of an amalgam of all of those elements. The volume aspect is certainly on the decrease," he told RT.

In his opinion, the government is saying that the law is the law.

"Last week we saw one of the ring leaders was arrested for getting involved deliberately – by his own admission – in an unauthorized demonstration, and you and I know how much the French love to demonstrate," he said.

He said that France has clear laws about when and where you can demonstrate, and declaring where you demonstrate. He believes the government is saying "you can do these things, but you have to respect the law."

"The other thing that is happening in the background is that now they have just opened or about to open this process of public consultation that is linked to the whole movement. So, there are two things happening – the government is saying the dialogue is now open and that is a peaceful thing and that happens through the 36,000 town halls across France. And that will be their way – their means of separating the 'legitimate' Gilets Jaunes movement and those who want to continue down the path of violence."

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