In an unprecedented move, French riot police have hit the streets with semi-automatic weapons and live ammunition to stop Yellow Vest protesters.
Officers seen carrying Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifles equipped with 30-cartridge live ammunition magazines were filmed near the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris on Saturday, showing the extent to which Macron is willing to mete out state violence to secure his rule.
The move is just the latest sign that the government of President Emmanuel Macron is dead-set on deploying every possible repressive measure capable of stamping out the dynamic social movement, and comes as the combative protests and seemingly inextinguishable rage of the Gilet Jaunes, or Yellow Vests, approaches its 10th week on the streets of France.
The protesters have already won several demands yet they have continued to mobilize unabated for further systemic changes in the country ruled by the neoliberal right-centrist president.
Yellow Vest protesters have lambasted what they see as the implied threat that they could be sprayed with live ammunition and noted that the weapons were atypical for crowd control units of the French National Police.
“The [National Police] with the guns were wearing riot control helmets and body armor – they were not a specialized firearms unit,” protester Gillet Caron said.
“Their job was simply to threaten us with lethal weapons in a manner which is very troubling. We deserve some explanations.”
The G36 is a common rifle in NATO countries’ militaries and is more commonly used by the specialized squadrons of the police and anti-criminal brigades in France, who are the equivalent of the special weapons and tactics or SWAT teams among their U.S. police counterparts.
The deployment of the assault rifles comes after conservative former minister Luc Ferry demanded that the state be given more largesse to use extraordinary measures and decisively rub out the Yellow Vest movement. The former education minister told reporters last week:
“What I don’t understand is that we don’t give the means to the police to put an end to this violence.”
When told that the guns would lead to grievous injuries or worse among protesters, Ferry responded:
“So what? Frankly, when you see guys beating up an unfortunate policeman on the floor, that’s when they should use their weapons once and for all. That’s enough!”
The French National Police, known by their French acronym CRS, has already earned widespread revilement for their heavy-handed use of plainclothes officers and excessive use of less-lethal weaponry including tear gas canisters, stun grenades and flash-ball projectiles.
On Saturday’s Day of Rage, which marked the 9th consecutive week of protests, fireman and father of three Olivier Beziade was shot in the back of the head by police officers as he participated in demonstrations while wearing the high-visibility jacket associated with the movement.
Beziade is now in a medically-induced coma after suffering a grievous brain injury from the flash-ball and may have lifelong complications due to the blow.
According to his wife Cindy, Beziade was trying to escape clouds of teargas before the police appeared around a corner and began firing at fleeing protesters.
“They shot at us like rabbits,” she said.