Thousands of people rallied against the controversial bill in more than 70 French cities on Saturday, with the organizers claiming over half a million participants and authorities estimating the number at around 150,000.

The daytime rallies went off peacefully, but by early evening clashes erupted in multiple cities, including Marseilles, Lyon, Brest, Nice, Rennes, Lille, Bordeaux and in other cities.

Hundreds of black-clad protesters clashed with police officers at the end of a demonstration against police violence in Paris on Saturday after masked protesters launched fireworks, put up barricades and threw stones.

The majority of the thousands of demonstrators marched peacefully, but small groups of masked protesters dressed in black smashed shop windows and set two cars, a motorcycle and a cafe on fire. The fires were put out quickly.

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowds and in the early evening, a water cannon sprayed remaining groups of protesters on Place de la Bastille.

The interior ministry said it had counted 46,000 protesters in Paris. Police said they had made nine arrests.

The protests follow the publication this week of footage showing music producer Michel Zecler, a Black man, being beaten by three police officers in Paris on November 21.

The incident has also fanned anger about a draft law that is seen as curbing the right of journalists to report on police brutality.

The bill would make it a crime to circulate images of police officers in certain circumstances, which opponents say would limit press freedom.

Many protesters carried placards with slogans like “Who will protect us from the police,” “Stop police violence” and “Democracy bludgeoned”.

The images of Zecler being beaten have circulated widely on social media and in the French and foreign press. President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday the images were shameful for France.

Four police officers are being held for questioning as part of an investigation into the beating.

“What is happening in Paris is extremely worrying and we cannot let this pass. I have spent two years with the yellow vests and I have seen all the violence,” demonstrator Caroline Schatz told Reuters at the Paris march.

The journalists’ organizations and civil liberty groups who organized the marches were joined by far-left militants, environmental activists and “yellow vest” protesters. The yellow vests have been protesting against government policies for two years.

Violent clashes and chaos

Violent clashes and arson have erupted in Paris amid mass protests against police brutality and a draft law that would ban filming officers “in certain circumstances,” after a video emerged of cops beating a black music producer.

Paris descended into chaos, forcing police to deploy tear gas, flashbangs and water cannon after black-clad masked protesters launched fireworks and pelted cops with stones.

Multiple videos also showed rioters smashing vehicles and shop windows, and torching cars and a motorcycle.

Entrance to central bank set on fire

At one point, protesters set the entrance to France’s central bank on fire, while firefighters struggled to reach the scene through the streets blocked by police fencing, makeshift barricades and burning trash.

Sporadic clashes with smaller groups continued into the night, long after the bulk of the demonstrators had left the Place de la Bastill, with hundreds of officers in full riot gear seen chasing protesters down side streets, struggling to contain the unrest.

46 arrests and 37 injuries

While it was not clear how many protesters were injured in clashes, local media reported at least 37 officers received injuries across France, while making at least 46 arrests.

The demonstrators are voicing their anger over a draft law on public security, which was approved by the lower chamber of parliament this week. The controversial Article 24 of the bill seeks to protect police officers from harassment, and bans filming of cops on duty and sharing their images online with the “intent to harm.”

Critics say the bill infringes on journalistic freedom and would be used to intimidate those who want to expose police brutality and other misconduct. One such incident went viral this week after footage emerged showing French police beat and racially abuse a black man, apparently for not wearing a facemask.

The reasoning behind the provision, which introduces a fine of €45,000 ($53,450) or even a one-year jail term, is that members of the force need to be protected from doxxing and online harassment. Critics say it curtails journalistic freedoms and would be used to intimidate people who want to expose police brutality and other forms of misconduct.

The protests were organized by unions, but they have many supporters. The Yellow Vests movement, which was sparked by growing social and economic inequality and for months remained a major problem for President Emmanuel Macron, is among them.

There is also a component of racism in why the proposed law sparked so much anger. Police abuse of people of color became more visible thanks to the spread of mobile phones with good cameras and social media.

One such incident, which was filmed on CCTV rather than a personal device, went viral this week after the footage was leaked online. It showed French police beat and racially abuse a black man, apparently for not wearing a facemask.

Police have also been slammed for their heavy-handed tactics in clearing a migrant camp in central Paris earlier this week.


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