Monday 21 October 2019

Soldiers will not shoot 'yellow vest' protesters, insists Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron. Photo: Getty Images
French President Emmanuel Macron. Photo: Getty Images

Henry Samuel

Emmanuel Macron was yesterday forced to wade into an escalating row over claims that French soldiers have been authorised to open fire at today's "yellow vest" protests.

His ability to prevent a repeat of last weekend's violence, in which masked rioters wrecked stores and restaurants on the Champs-Élysées, is seen as a crucial test for the French president.

Christophe Castaner, his embattled interior minister, has this week drafted in 3,000 soldiers to protect hotspots in Paris and other big cities.

Failure to maintain order ended in Mr Castaner firing the Paris police and public security chiefs and announcing measures including a ban on protests in areas infiltrated by violent individuals, the use of surveillance drones, rubber bullet launchers and the army.

Bruno Le Ray, head of the Sentinelle military operation in the Paris area until now dedicated to anti-terror patrols, said soldiers would be there to guard sensitive sites.

"They have different means of action to deal with threats... that can go as far as opening fire if their life or that of the people they are defending is under threat," he told the news service France Info.

He denied that guns could be turned on the "yellow vests", adding: "The soldiers are perfectly capable of appraising the nature of the threat and responding in a proportionate manner."

However, the army's involvement triggered furious debate among the opposition and police amid fears that soldiers were ill-equipped to deal with urban guerrilla tactics.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, said: "One sets the army against an enemy. One does not set the army against the French people."

With the row snowballing, Mr Macron waded in from Brussels, saying: "The army is in no way in charge of maintaining public order." Their role, he insisted, was to fight terrorism, protect sensitive sites and "relieve police and gendarmes".

© Daily Telegraph London

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