The French government is to deploy its military anti-terror force as reinforcement during Act 19 of Saturday’s Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) protests, President Emmanuel Macron decided on Wednesday.
A statement from the Elysee Palace:
“The president has requested emergency measures to toughen the security by the armed forces”, Benjamin Griveaux, the spokesperson for the French Elysee Palace, said on Wednesday. The yellow vests, he said, “are not protesters, but rioters”.
Alongside the deployment of the French military anti-terror force, called Sentinelle, to protect official buildings and other “static places”, Griveaux announced that armed forces would start using surveillance drones and throw indelible, invisible liquid on protesters to mark them.
“We cannot let a minuscule minority damage our country and the French image abroad”, he said.
The decision came after violence marred last weekend’s protests, reaching levels not seen since December.
Many targets by the movement in Paris and other cities included known landmarks and stores or places seen as elitist, such as the Parisian restaurant Le Fouquet’s on the Champs Elysées.
Regular police forces will still “concentrate on crowd control, along with maintaining law and order,” Griveaux said, which presumably means the Sentinelle could respond to more extreme situations that unfold like acts of rioting, burning, and vandalism.
Macron’s government has lately appeared powerless as shocking and embarrassing (for security forces) images of the iconic Champs-Elysees looking like a bombed out war zone have been beamed around the world.
The deployment of troops is intended to allow riot police to engage more aggressively with the far-left and far-right groups as well as anarchists who have been blamed for much of the violence.
But some police unions have warned that maintaining law and order was not the role of a soldier.
“I’m worried about how they’ll respond in case of attack,” said Philippe Capon of the Unsa-Police union. — AFP
But it now appears Macron is ever more ready to try a “gloves off” approach in his deploying counter-terror military forces against what Paris officials have described as far-left “black bloc” activists or ultra-radicals and anarchists who merely seek as much destruction as possible.
The military have been on French Streets since 2015
Following the attacks at Charlie Hebdo in 2015, the military has been patrolling the streets across the country.
The Ministry of the Armed Forces has clarified the role that the military will have in this case.
“Given the context of protests planned this weekend and to allow the internal security forces to devote themselves fully to their policing mission, the protection of certain sensitive sites, hitherto devolved to units of the Ministry of the Interior. Interior, will be provided by elements of the sentinel device. It is not a question for the soldiers of Operation Sentinel to participate in law enforcement missions, but to continue their usual mission in the fight against terrorism, “he explained. .
And to insist: “The soldiers of the sentinel operation are not intended to participate in law enforcement operations, they are not trained or equipped for that. “
On RTL, March 21, the military governor of Paris, General Bruno Le Ray, said that the mission of the soldiers of Operation Sentinel will be “strictly consistent with the mission they have fulfilled since the outbreak of the war. operation in 2015 which is the fight against terrorism. “
“The soldiers do not protect the buildings in the first place but they protect the population. These places may be subject to a terrorist threat. […] The only mission of soldiers is to ensure the protection of the population in the face of the terrorist threat, “added General Le Ray.
For the moment, the number of soldiers concerned has not yet been defined. It is the subject of a discussion with the police headquarters, which must define the sites that the Sentinel operation will have to protect without exposing it to the “risk of not being able to maintain order. “
Finally, in an interview given to the daily Le Parisien, the Minister of Armies, Florence Parly, broke the nail. When asked if the military will face protesters, she was adamant.
“It’s obviously out of the question! She replied. “Like every day, there will be soldiers in railway stations, airports, to secure public places. But they will not be placed to intervene vis-à-vis the protesters. Their mission is to fight against terrorism, not to restore public order! They are trained and equipped with weapons to fight, neutralise an enemy in a theatre of operations. So it is not the idea of anyone to put the military in front of the demonstrators, “