Monday

France Uses Sweeping Powers to Curb Climate Protests, but Clashes Erupt

 




The French government is using the sweeping emergency powers it gained after the Paris terrorist attacks to clamp down on any possible disruption to the two-week global climate conference that starts on Monday, limiting public demonstrations, beefing up security and placing two dozen environmental activists under house arrest.  

                                                          




The efforts to restrict protests — as world leaders arrived to reach an international deal to contain global warming — were not entirely successful; 174 people were taken into custody on Sunday after demonstrators clashed with the police in the historic Place de la République.

The police, in full riot gear, used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the demonstrators, some of whom grabbed flowers and other remembrances that had been left at a tribute to the 130 people killed in the attacks and hurled them at officers. Some demonstrators chanted: “State of emergency, police state. You can’t take away our right to demonstrate!”

Twenty-four environmental activists were put under house arrest in the past few days, as the French prepared to host the long-anticipated talks.

The French authorities also banned two large public demonstrations that had been planned as bookends to the conference; deployed 2,800 police officers and gendarmes around the city; forbade the sale of firecrackers and flammable materials; and urged civilians in the Paris region to stay off the streets. (Public transit was free on Sunday and will be free again on Monday.)

Since January, when terrorist attacks in the Paris area killed 17 people, including a dozen at the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, the French and other European governments have been grappling with the balance between security concerns and individual rights, similar to the debate in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

But the French authorities have leaned more heavily in recent days toward public safety over civil liberties, conducting more than a thousand raids and detaining scores of people in antiterrorism sweeps. The French government overwhelmingly voted to extend a state of emergency put in place after the Nov. 13 attacks for three more months, and Belgium, which has been a hotbed of terrorist activity, is enacting its own host of security measures.

Riot police arrested a woman in Paris on Sunday during a demonstration at the Place de la République related to the climate change conference.© Guillaume Horcajuelo/European Pressphoto Agency Riot police arrested a woman in Paris on Sunday during a demonstration at the Place de la République related to the climate change conference. The French measures were taken as representatives from 195 countries and the European Union will begin 12 days of negotiations to try to reach an agreement on restricting greenhouse gas emissions to a level that will head off the worst effects of climate change.

More than 150 world leaders, including President Obama and the leaders of China, India, Russia, Germany, Britain and Brazil, are expected to attend the climate talks on Monday, in a heavily guarded convention center in the northern suburb of Le Bourget.

On Sunday, as tens of thousands of people marched in Sydney, Australia; Cape Town, South Africa; Beirut, Lebanon; Madrid; Berlin; London; and other cities around the world, urging leaders to reach a binding agreement to curb emissions of the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet, demonstrations in Paris were comparatively muted. Organizers said at least 500,000 people participated worldwide, including a rally on the Pacific island of New Caledonia and a march across the Equator in Kenya.

But in Paris, instead of a giant climate march that had been planned for the day, climate activists placed 11,000 pairs of shoes — including a pair of sneakers from the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and shoes sent by Pope Francis — at the Place de la République and formed a “human chain” of almost two miles from that square, along the Boulevard Voltaire, to the Place de la Nation. 

                                               




Organizers with Avaaz and 350.org, the advocacy groups that coordinated the worldwide marches and the “Marching Shoes” in Paris, said they had nothing to do with the violent protesters who moved into the square after the shoes were removed at noon. They noted that every group involved in the French demonstrations had agreed to a pledge of nonviolence.

A police officer faced demonstrators after falling during a clash in Paris on Sunday.© Laurent Cipriani/Associated Press A police officer faced demonstrators after falling during a clash in Paris on Sunday. But Nicolas Haeringer, the organizer of the 350.org campaign in France, said, “We will stand against any attempts by the French authorities to use the incidents this afternoon to unnecessarily clamp down on civil liberties and prevent the types of demonstrations that are at the heart of any democracy and climate progress.”

Juliette Rousseau, the head of Coalition Climat 21, an umbrella group for environmental activists, said the authorities had searched homes and seized computers and other equipment belonging to activists who have no connection to terrorism.

“There’s clearly an environment to keep activists out,” she said. “The state of emergency is clearly targeting activist movements. This is not justified. These people under house arrest, they don’t have any kind of criminal record.”

She added: “The impression we have is that there is this conference taking place in a sealed-up space, and meanwhile people in civil society are being asphyxiated.”

Joel Domenjoud, an environmental activist, said he was one of the 24 put under house arrest.

In a phone interview, Mr. Domenjoud said he was prohibited from leaving his apartment, in the southern Paris suburb of Malakoff, between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., and from leaving Malakoff during the day. He said he was followed by plainclothes officers whenever he left his apartment.

“I’ve been caught up in the process,” he said.

Mr. Domenjoud said he had put in a request to demonstrate on Wednesday in advance of the climate conference, even though he knew that public marches had been banned. On Thursday, he said, police told him he was under house arrest because of his “leadership role” among activists.

“Thursday my neighbor called to say the whole building was filled with police,” he said. “Then the police called to say I should go to the police station, immediately.”

“It seems totally scandalous,” Mr. Domenjoud said. “I am being subjected to this without having been judged. To me, this is a very serious misapplication of the state of emergency.”

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has defended the extraordinary security measures and said that they were taken carefully. “The state of emergency is not the abandonment of the state of law,” he said last week.

Benjamin Ménard, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the authorities had barred about 1,000 people from entering France since the Nov. 13 attacks “for a variety of reasons,” including potential “risk to public order,” but it was not clear how many of them were activists.

Many residents participated in the “Marching Shoes” event as a way to demonstrate their support for the efforts to reach a climate deal, while abiding by the security clampdown.

Gloria Montenegro, a 65-year-old Parisian who left two pairs of shoes at the Place de la République, said the conference “is starting in an atmosphere that is not the atmosphere of freedom we usually find in Paris.”

The shoes were a few dozen yards far from the 31-foot bronze statue of Marianne, the symbol of French liberty at the center of the Place de la République, where flowers, candles and messages have been left in tribute to the victims of the attacks. Some of the makeshift memorials were trampled during the protesters’ clashes with police on Sunday.
 Source New York Times
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