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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Paris police fire tear gas as George Floyd protests spread around the world

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Riot police in Paris have fired tear gas as scattered protesters pelted them with debris and set fires during an unauthorised demonstration against racial injustice and heavy-handed police tactics.

Several thousand people had previously rallied peacefully for two hours at the main Paris courthouse as global outrage over what happened to George Floyd in the US kindled frustrations across borders and continents.

The protesters also paid tribute to Adama Traore, a French black man who died in police custody.

Police had banned the protest because of coronavirus restrictions that had forbidden any gathering of more than 10 people.

As the demonstration wound down, police fired tear gas and protesters could be seen throwing debris. Two small fires broke out, and barriers surrounding a construction site were knocked over.

Tensions also erupted at a related protest in the southern city of Marseille.

Earlier, thousands marched in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, chanting “I can’t breathe”, and expressions of anger erupted in multiple languages on social networks, with thousands of Swedes joining an online protest and others speaking out under the banner of #BlackOutTuesday.

As protests escalated worldwide, solidarity with US demonstrators increasingly mixed with local issues.

When you refuse to treat the problem of racism … it leads to what we see in the United States,” said Dominique Sopo, head of French activist group SOS Racisme.

The case of George Floyd echoes what we fear in France.

Mr Floyd died last week after a police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air. The death set off protests that spread across America and beyond.

Fears of coronavirus remain close to the surface and were the reason cited by police for banning Tuesday’s protest at the main Paris courthouse. Gatherings of more than 10 people remain banned in France as part of virus confinement measures.

But the protest plans drew attention online, and demonstrators showed up anyway. Demonstrations were also held in other French cities in honour of Mr Traore, who died shortly after his arrest in 2016, and in solidarity with Americans demonstrating against Mr Floyd’s death.

The Traore case has become emblematic of the fight against police brutality in France. The circumstances of the death of the 24-year-old Frenchman of Malian origin are still under investigation after four years of conflicting medical reports.

His family say he died from asphyxiation because of police tactics – and that his last words were “I can’t breathe”.

I can’t breathe” were also the final words of David Dungay, a 26-year-old Aboriginal man who died in a Sydney prison in 2015 while being restrained by five guards.

As 3,000 people marched peacefully through Sydney, many said they had been inspired by a mixture of sympathy for African Americans amid ongoing violent protests in the US and to call for change in Australia’s treatment of its indigenous population, particularly involving police.

A total of 432 indigenous Australians have died in police detention since a 1991 Royal Commission — Australia’s highest level of official inquiry — into Aboriginal deaths in custody, according to The Guardian.

Another protest is planned in the Dutch capital The Hague, and more than 6,000 people attended a Sweden-organised online protest to express support with the Black Lives Matter movement.

More protests in various countries are planned later in the week, including a string of demonstrations in front of US embassies on Saturday.

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