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France Arson Demonstration Labour Police

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Macron lays into far left as anarchists face trial for police car arson

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French riot police during clashes during a demonstration against the French labour law proposal in Paris, France, as part of a nationwide labor reform protests and strikes, April 28, 2016. Reuters/Charles Platiau

French prosecutors have called for prison sentences for far-left demonstrators accused of setting fire to a police car during a demonstration last year. At the same time President Emmanuel Macron accused the far left of encouraging anarchist violence, such as an arson attack on a police station this week that was "in solidarity" with the defendants.


The trial in Paris was disrupted by protests when it opened on Tuesday and the defendants' sympathisers were chanting outside the court on Friday as prosecutors called for sentences of up to eight years on Friday.

They called for Nicolas Fensch, 40, to be jailed for three years with two more suspended for attacking police officer Kevin Philippy with an iron bar as he and his friends demonstrated against police officers protesting against "anti-cop hatred", in particular on protests against the previous government's labour reform.

Fensch has confessed to the assault and apologised to the victim.

The prosecutors called for four years in jail with one suspended for Antonin Bernanos, the great grandson of writer Georges Bernanos, for "aggravated violence".

Bernanos, who denies the charges, is active in the French antifascist movement.

Prosecutors called for a one-year suspended sentence and a three-year ban on demonstrating in Paris for his brother, Angel, for participating in a group planning to commit violence, a crime placed on the statute-book in 2009 at the initiative of Nice's right-wing mayor Christian Estrosi.

They proposed one year in prison for Thomas Richaud, who is said to have kicked and punched the vehicle, and two and four years respectively for Kara Brault and Ari Rustenholz, accused of hitting it with a metal object.

They also called for Brault, a transgender US citizen, to be banned from French territory.

A ninth defendant, who lives in Switzerland, was not in court and an international arrest warrant has been issued for him.

Defence lawyers accused the prosecution of "political requisitions".

Arson attack on gendarmes' HQ

As the court was sitting, Macron was attending the weekly cabinet meeting, where he accused some of his left-wing opponents of encouraging the anarchists who set fire to a gendarmes' premises in the French Alps city of Grenoble on Wednesday night.

The president criticised "hate-filled statements" by "extreme left-wingers" during the campaign against his labour reform, claiming that they "opened the way for radical activists" such as those who carried out the arson attack, government spokesman Christophe Castaner told the press after the meeting.

Anarchist website infoLibertaire.com carried a claim of responsibility for the attack, saying it was an act of solidarity with the defendants in the Paris trial.

It destroyed at least 30 vehicles and spread to about 2,000m² of adminstrative buildings, destroying evidence in some current cases.

Local police said that that was probably "collateral damage" and that material relating to the disappearance of nine-year-old Maëlys de Araujo had not been destroyed, as Castaner claimed on Friday.

Five vehicles were destroyed in a similar attack in Limoges in central France two days earlier.

"Whatever the outcome of the trial, we will continue to attack the police and the legal system," the statement said. "Our hostility is a fire that is spreading."

As Macron made his remarks, Sylvain Maillard, an MP from his Republic on the Move party, accused former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his France Unbowed of working for the "end of the republic".

"Even if they're proposing a sixth republic, an ideal republic, the ideas they are advocating are the ideas of dictatorship that we saw throughout the 20th century in different forms, as we have in Venezuela at the moment," he told Public Sénat TV.