France to Stop Using TNT-Loaded Tear Gas Grenades

France to Stop Using TNT-Loaded Tear Gas Grenades

PARIS — France has announced that its security forces will no longer use explosive tear gas grenades that have maimed protesters, a sign of the government’s increasing willingness to address complaints about police use of force that have mushroomed since the Yellow Vest protests.

But critics said that the announcement was too little, too late, and argued that similar grenades, which the French police will continue to use, could be just as dangerous.

The French interior minister, Christophe Castaner, said on Sunday that the tear gas grenades — known by their technical designation, GLI-F4 — were used only “in the most serious cases,” but that they had the “flaw of containing explosives” and would be withdrawn immediately from police use.

Speaking to the television broadcaster France 3, he said that grenades, which contain a TNT charge, did not have a specific color or insignia to indicate dangerousness.

Fired from launchers or thrown by hand, the grenades detonate on impact or soon after, creating an explosion that is supposed to be disorienting but not wounding. But people who come into direct contact with them have been badly hurt.

When police officers were “forced to use them to disengage from a threat,” Mr. Castaner said, protesters sometimes picked them up and were “seriously wounded.”

“Because they are the only ones who can legitimately use force, they must do so in a proportionate, regulated way,” he said of the police.

The government has come under increasing pressure in the past few weeks to address accusations of excessive force by the police after a string of events, including the death of Cédric Chouviat, a deliveryman who died this month after police officers held him on the ground during a traffic stop.

Investigations were also opened this month into events during Yellow Vest protests or demonstrations against Mr. Macron’s proposed pension overhauls: One officer in Paris shot a protester at point-blank range with a rubber projectile, another punched a detained protester in the head, and an officer in the city of Toulouse intentionally tripped a demonstrator.

“I expect the greatest ethics from our police officers and gendarmes,” Mr. Macron said recently, adding that he did not want to generalize or “harm the credibility and dignity” of French security forces, but that the attitude of officers in a small number of cases was “not acceptable.”

But longtime critics of the grenades were unconvinced that Mr. Castaner’s announcement marked a turning point in the government’s approach to law enforcement.

One group of lawyers representing protesters who have been wounded by the grenades expressed satisfaction that police violence was now “at the heart of public concerns.” But they said in a statement on Sunday that the interior minister’s announcement was a public relations move “in the context of increasing media coverage of police violence.”

“It has been 14 months since we publicly warned Mr. Castaner about the dangerousness of these firearms,” the lawyers said, referring to a letter they had written to the interior minister in the fall of 2018.

That was at the height of the Yellow Vest protests, when violent clashes between demonstrators and the police around the country led to a spike in the use of force by officers, who used rubber projectiles, “dispersal grenades” that spray smaller rubber pellets upon exploding, and tear gas grenades.

Several protesters have lost hands to the GLI-F4 grenades, which were also used in 2014 against environmental activists in western France who had set up camp on the site of a shelved airport project. Other protesters were injured in the feet and legs by shards of the grenades.

The GLI-F4s, which are roughly seven inches long and contain about an ounce of TNT, release tear gas and a strong blast of air upon loudly detonating. They are meant to be used by police officers to disperse aggressive crowds.

The French authorities argue that the police need such tools to respond to increasingly violent protesters. Mr. Castaner said on Sunday, for instance, that someone whose hand was mutilated after seizing a grenade “to throw it back at security forces” was different from a bystander being injured.

The Council of State, France’s highest administrative court, has rejected attempts by advocacy groups like the Human Rights League to outlaw the grenades, arguing that police forces were adequately trained to use them in specific circumstances.

Critics also called Mr. Castaner’s announcement a symbolic but empty gesture, because the Interior Ministry announced several years ago that it was phasing out the GLI-F4s — which are no longer produced — and replacing them with similar tear gas grenades, known as GM2Ls.

The newer grenades do not contain TNT and are designed to prevent shards from harming protesters, but they function similarly to the GLI-F4s, and critics argue it is unclear that they are much safer.

“This decision is salutary but quite belated, and the replacement by the GM2L model is not without risk if there is not a radical change in law enforcement strategy,” the Human Rights League said in a statement on Monday, calling Mr. Castaner’s announcement a “fake gesture.”

Another type of stun grenade was banned in 2017, three years after the death of Rémi Fraisse, an environmental activist who was killed by a grenade fired by the police during a protest over a dam construction project in southwestern France.

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