French PM removes police chief and vows to shut down rioters

The French government has removed the Paris police chief and announced it will shut down all anti-government street protests by the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) in central parts of Paris, Bordeaux and Toulouse if violent groups are spotted in the crowds.

The prime minister, Édouard Philippe, announced the hardline measures on Monday after the government admitted failures in dealing with rioting and arson in Paris this weekend.

“From next Saturday, we will ban ‘yellow vest’ protests in neighbourhoods that have been the worst hit as soon as we see sign of the presence of radical groups and their intent to cause damage,” Philippe said in a televised statement.

He replaced the Paris police chief, Michel Delpuech, with Didier Lallement, a colleague serving in western France.

The government was on the defensive after security forces were again unable to prevent violence, arson and looting on the Champs Élysées at the weekend.

Several hundred black-clad rioters caused havoc for more than seven hours as 10,000 gilets jaunes protesters marched in the capital. More than 90 shops and businesses, including luxury stores such as Longchamp and Bulgari, were damaged and looted, and a bank and a restaurant were burnt.

Since the end of December the number of protesters has fallen, but each Saturday thousands of people still take to the streets in the movement, which began as a fuel tax revolt and morphed into a protest against the government. The interior ministry has said violence at the demonstrations is carried out by rioters from far-right and far-left groups as well as anarchists.

The police have been criticised for alleged excessive use of force and weapons against protesters, and the United Nations recently called for a full investigation.

Rights groups have tried to force a ban on the handheld rubber bullet launchers used by police, noting that France is one of only a handful of western countries to use them. Lawyers have said a number of people have lost eyes or hands as a result of the use of rubber-bullet launchers and explosive sting grenades.

However, the French government argued that not enough force was used by police at the weekend, and urged a greater use of weapons by police.

A junior interior minister, Laurent Nuñez, said on French radio on Monday that the police had been “less aggressive, less reactive than usual” over the weekend and promised a review of the instructions given to officers and their deployment.

Philippe said: “Inappropriate orders were given to reduce the use of LBD [rubber bullet launchers].” He said he wanted a hardening of France’s “doctrine” of law and order, and special police squads would be deployed as anti-riot units.

The French Insurance Federation said on Monday that claims for damage linked to three months of gilets jaunes protests were estimated at €170m (£145m), excluding this weekend’s riots.

The Confederation of Small and Medium-sized Companies said: “Enough is enough. What happened on the Champs Élysées on Saturday is just the repetition of what shopkeepers have already lived through. It’s unacceptable that this was allowed to happen again.”