About 200 gilets jaunes have staged a “march of the mutilated” through central Paris. Among them were people seriously injured in demonstrations since the movement started last November.
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Several had lost an eye or limb in clashes with riot police. The marchers called for an end to “repressive ultra-violence” and a ban on police use of explosive grenades and rubber bullets.
The French interior ministry estimates 2,448 protesters and 1,797 police and gendarmes have been injured since the weekly protests began on 17 November. Investigations have been launched into 174 incidents; 57 have been completed and are awaiting a decision on whether there should be legal action.
Jérôme Rodrigues, who lost an eye after being hit by a flashball – or large rubber pellet – fired by police, and who attended the march on Sunday, said: “Several files concern the use of flashballs. No police officer or gendarme has been put under investigation.”
The march took place on the 29th weekend of action by the gilets jaunes. The interior ministry said there were fewer than 10,000 protesters across the country, the lowest turnout yet.
In previous weekends there have been running battles between police and extremist elements of the gilets jaunes who have torched cars and smashed shops, banks and businesses.
Laurent Nuñez, a junior interior minister, said the government had no intention of halting the use of flashballs and he had no regrets about police using them against gilets jaunes.
“It’s a vital weapon in situation of rioting and urban violence,” Nuñez told RTL radio. “The flashball is used every day by our police officers and gendarmes to stop public order problems, a refusal to desist and to protect themselves when their lives are in danger.
“When there is aggression against the police and a proportionate response, there may be people injured. Just because a hand has been torn off or an eye damaged doesn’t mean that this [response] is illegal. Above all, it’s important to make it clear that it’s not acceptable for police officers to be attacked in a violent manner by those wishing to express their convictions.”
On Thursday, the Paris prosecutor, Rémy Heitz, said eight investigations so far into the behaviour of police had made a case for legal action. “These are cases where the injuries are heavier and permanent,” Heitz said.
He said investigators were looking into “illegal violence” rather than “police violence” and the cases centred on whether the police response was “illegal or disproportionate”.
On the gilets jaunes side, Heitz said 2,907 protesters had been arrested, of whom 1,304 were released without charge and 1,357 were referred to the courts. Fifty “more serious and complex” cases involving “violence to the police, pillaging luxury stores or damaging the Arc de Triomphe” were the subject of a full investigation.
A group of 38 injured gilets jaunes have set up a group called Mutilés pour l’Exemple. In a statement, the group said they were victims of “the ultraviolence of repression” and added: “The hell of our lives is such that we urgently demand justice and the end to the use of sub-lethal weapons.”