Paris police under fire over neo-Nazi rally

Riot police react to a petrol bomb burst, where an officer's gear caught fire, during May Day protests in Paris, France May 1, 2023 in this still image from social media videoReuters

The Paris police force and France’s interior minister faced questions and criticism Monday over why a march of around 600 neo-Nazis through the streets of the capital was authorised at the weekend.

The annual rally Saturday by far-right extremists dressed in black came as authorities clamp down on protesters banging saucepans against the government, with new restrictions put in place Monday to prevent President Emmanuel Macron from being drowned out by the noise during speeches.

The march saw several hundred men from far-right groups march with flags and chant slogans to commemorate the death of a far-right activist, Sebastien Deyzieu, in 1994.

The protest was authorised by city authorities, and police could be seen patrolling nearby.

France marked its traditional 8 May public holiday on Monday to commemorate the victory of Allied forces over Nazi Germany in 1945 and the lives lost in the fight against fascism.

Socialist Party senator David Assouline called on Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin to “explain yourself” over the march.

“It’s unacceptable to have allowed 500 neo-Nazis and fascists to parade in the heart of Paris. Their organisations, the display of their ideology, slogans, insignias are as much an insult to the dead as an incitement to racial hatred,” he wrote on Twitter.

Ian Brossat, a spokesman for the Communist party, joked that “saucepans are clearly more dangerous than jackboots”.

Left-wing charity Attac also wrote that the far right “demonstrates their hatred with complete impunity in the centre of Paris while the state is seeking to outlaw saucepan-banging.”

The Paris police department reacted on Monday by explaining that it did not have the legal powers to prevent a demonstration unless there was a “proven risk to public order”.

“Given that this demonstration had not caused any problems or public order issues during previous years, the Paris prefect was not in a position to take steps to ban it,” it said in a statement.

It referred to a previous attempt in January to stop a flaming-torch rally by the far-right “Paris Pride” group, which was overturned by a judge after an appeal by organisers.

Saucepan bans

Demonstrations were banned on Monday around the Champs-Elysees in Paris where Macron attended an 8 May ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe war memorial.

Police in the eastern city of Lyon also outlawed demonstrations Monday near a war memorial where Macron paid tribute to French Resistance hero Jean Moulin.

An appeal from the CGT trade union was rejected by a local court.

The CGT said 5,000 protesters, some banging saucepans, marched outside the security perimeter enforced during Macron’s Lyon visit, with the local authorities putting their number at 3,000.

Anti-riot police fired tear gas on multiple occasions while car windows were smashed, AFP journalists saw.

Members of the government have been pursued by saucepan-banging protesters since Macron signed a deeply unpopular pension reform into law on 15 April that will raise the retirement age to 64 from 62.

The interior ministry has banned a number of extremist anti-immigration groups in recent years, including Generation Identitaire and Zouaves Paris.