Advocate decries police violence against migrants during Paris demonstration
Police dispersed migrants, protesters with tear gas and batons 'completely randomly,' says Nikolai Posner
Nikolai Posner described the scene of police forcibly removing hundreds of asylum seekers and protesters in Paris on Monday night as "full chaos and full violence."
Hundreds of homeless asylum seekers were trying to draw attention to their situation by setting up makeshift shelters in the central Place de la Republic.
Posner, a French refugee advocate who was at the demonstration, described seeing 150 to 200 police officers forcibly removing the tents along with their occupants.
"They were starting to beat people and walk over the tents ... and they were picking up tents and throwing them away, even if people were inside," he told As It Happens host Carol Off.
Posner said he saw at least three people who needed medical help to treat their injuries, and at least one journalist who was also injured in the fracas that lasted over three hours at the Republique.
After that clash, Posner said a group of about 500 people moved to city hall to continue their demonstration. They were met with greater force from police, he said.
"Of course, the police was waiting for us. And at that moment, they started to use tear gas, gas grenades and once again [were] beating up people, completely randomly," he said.
The Paris police headquarters said in a statement that the Republique camp was cleared out because it was illegal, and "invited" the migrants to seek lodging elsewhere offered by the state or aid groups.
France interior minister 'shocked' by violence
The evacuation, filmed by journalists and activists, drew nationwide attention amid tensions over a draft law beefing up police powers that easily passed a vote in France's lower house of parliament Tuesday.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin ordered an internal police investigation into "certain incidents," promising to make the results public.
"Was I shocked by some of the images [of the evacuation]? The answer is yes," Darmanin told parliament.
His rapid reaction to the outcry stands in contrast to his vigorous defence of police officers in recent months, and to the government's tepid response to more severe and sustained violence by police at protests by anti-government activists and others in recent years.
Posner called Darmanin a "hypocrite" for the lack of reaction to a similar event last week.
Hundreds of migrants were kicked out of another camp in the shadow of France's national stadium last week and have been sleeping in the streets since for lack of other options.
Most are from Afghanistan, Somalia and Eritrea, and some have been refused asylum while others are in bureaucratic limbo while they try to apply, Corinne Torre, head of the aid group Doctors Without Borders in France, told The Associated Press.
Posner said that many of the asylum seekers see France as "a second chance" after being turned away from Germany or Sweden.
He explained that the protesters chose the Republique for their demonstration because of its highly visible location, to draw greater attention to the migrants' plight and the French government's hostility toward them.
"We found that the Place de la Republique was a good message to give them that this republic doesn't protect the people. And even we could see it very well yesterday: this Republique is attacking the people," he said.
Written by Jonathan Ore with files from The Associated Press. Interview with Nikolai Posner produced by Chris Harbord.