“Liberté” in France?

French state police put down peaceful protest in Paris, arrest 15-20

Today a group of peaceful protesters demonstrating against fiscal austerity measures were surrounded and arrested by the French state police (CRS) at the city hall in Paris.

CRS in riot gear (from wikipedia.org)

Organizers of three different groups—France Uncut, Attac (Sciences Po), and the Knowledge Liberation Front (KLF)—had mobilized a Saturday afternoon demonstration against public spending cuts.  Their plan was to head to a nearby branch of the Banque National de Paris (BNP) and demonstrate outside. Their collective cause is aimed at unjust cuts to public spending: they say that while the state is focusing its budget cuts on public sector workers and services, bailed-out corporations and banks with healthy profits like BNP should pay their fair share of the economic crisis—the corporations profiting off the backs of ordinary people have moral responsibilities and need to be held accountable.

The demonstrators, totaling about two dozen people, assembled with diverse signs and banners at the Fontaine des Innocents near Les Halles. Once assembled, two undercover police officers dressed as tourists appeared and told the group that they do not have the right to walk to the bank with their signs, and warned them that if they do they would be arrested. The policemen told the organizers that because there had been no official request filed for this political demonstration at least 72 hours beforehand, it would be illegal for them to march toward the bank and assemble peacefully in front of it. They gave the group the option of staying and demonstrating at the fountain.

The group instead decided to disperse and regroup at city hall before heading to the bank.

At city hall, the KLF group arrived before the others. KLF brought about twenty people with them, many of them students holding large signs with titles of books and the authors’ names, such as “’No Gods No Masters’ by Daniel Guerin” and, putting a local spin on another classic, “’Fear and Loathing in PARIS’ by Hunter S. Thompson.”

The KLF group immediately gathered at the foot of the majestic Hôtel de Ville, walking back and forth with their signs. Within just a couple of minutes, a group of armored French national police (CRS) ran across the piazza and surrounded the group, isolating them from the rest of the public with riot shields.

As the CRS surrounded the group of protesters, an incredulous crowd gathered and started chanting, "Liberté! Liberté!" One man walked among the crowd watching the police action yelling "Sarko dictature…Sarko dictature…c'est le fascisme!" — within one minute he was violently brought to the ground and hauled away toward the armored police vans. The crowd booed loudly. Soon after, the group of protesters holding the signs with book titles were herded across the square and blockaded on a section of nearby sidewalk next to a line of large, armored police vans.

As the protesters were being put into the vans, one armored officer addressed a newly gathered crowd and told them to disperse, unless they wanted to be arrested along with the group of protesters. One man told them that he belonged with the protesters and wanted to join them. The officer let him pass through the barricade into the hands of the state police, then he told everyone else to leave immediately.

Not far away on rue de Rivoli, a long line of people could be seen standing behind ropes along the side of the Hôtel de Ville. They were waiting to enter the newly-opened municipal historical exhibition about the democratic uprising of 1871, the Paris Commune.

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