France withdraws controversial grenade from police use

Paris (AFP) - France will withdraw from use an explosive tear gas grenade used by riot police and blamed for injuring numerous protesters, the interior minister said Sunday, amid growing anger at perceived police brutality.

Sanctioned for use by French law enforcement since 2011, the GLI-F4 grenade explodes with a loud, powerful blast to release a cloud of tear gas. Each shell contains 26 grammes of TNT.

The grenade is designed to help law enforcers under attack escape from a dangerous situation, but is blamed for maiming protesters in sometimes hairy confrontations with police in more than a year of anti-government "yellow vest" protests.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told France 3 broadcaster: "It happened, a few months ago, that police were obliged to use them (the grenades) to extricate themselves from a threat, and that protesters who picked them up were seriously injured.

"This is why I think we need to withdraw the GLI-F4."

French rights body Defenseur des Droits says France is the only European country to use explosive munitions against protesters.

In July last year, the Council of State -- France's highest court for administrative justice -- rejected a bid by the Human Rights League and the CGT labour union to ban the use of the GLI-F4 as well as LBD stun grenades in public order policing.

The OF-F1 grenade was banned from use in May 2017 after the death three years earlier of an environmental activist, Remi Fraisse, during a protest over a dam.

It has been replaced by the GLI-F4.

French police have come in for much criticism for alleged violent behaviour since the start of the yellow vests protest movement in November 2018, and in recent clashes with striking workers rallying against pension reform

More than 200 alleged abuses related to police handling of the yellow vest protests were signalled to the IGPN police watchdog.

- 'Unacceptable behaviour' -

A number of recent videos showing what appear to be unjustified police violence at demonstrations have sparked outrage on social media.

One showed an officer tripping a woman, and another an officer firing a rubber bullet at point-blank range.

A few days ago, a riot police officer was caught on camera punching a bloodied protester, held down on his back, at a demonstration in Paris, prompting an investigation by the police oversight body.

President Emmanuel Macron warned last week that the "unacceptable behaviour" of some officers risked undermining the "credibility and dignity" of the force.

But he also denounced the violence of some extremist protesters, who have hurled paving stones and other projectiles at security forces during protests.

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