Police violence controversy enters French parliamentary election campaign

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PM Elisabeth Borne has condemned as "outrageous" comments by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the new left-wing Nupes alliance, following a fatal police shooting over the weekend. The issue of police violence has entered a close parliamentary election battle between Nupes and allies of centrist President Macron.

Police killed a passenger in a car in northern Paris on Saturday after the vehicle failed to stop when summoned by officers and then allegedly drove towards them at speed.

The three officers, taken into custody, were released without charge on Tuesday, their lawyer said.

The shooting came just a week after police were widely condemned over their conduct at the Champions League final in Paris, where security forces teargassed fans and failed to stop street crime by local youths.

Images of frustrated passengers being teargassed outside a Paris train station over the weekend after rail services were cancelled also drove questions about their methods.

"If you vote for me, I'll change the doctrine governing the use of force by the police in our country," Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the Nupes left-wing alliance, told France Inter radio on Tuesday.

"It's not normal that we kill someone for failing to stop," he added, saying that four people had died in such circumstances in four months.

"The police kill," he tweeted on Saturday, sparking condemnation from rival politicians and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin ahead of the two-stage vote on June 12 and 19.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne condemned Mélenchon's comments.

"I'm very shocked by the way Jean-Luc Mélenchon systematically criticises the police with such totally outrageous speech," she told France Bleu radio on Tuesday. "The police have a difficult job in serving the French."

Divisive issue

The three officers involved in Saturday's shooting say they opened fire on the car in self-defence and their lawyer claims there is video evidence to back them up.

The 38-year-old driver, who has been hospitalised with a throat injury, has a long criminal record and no driving licence, Le Parisien newspaper reported.

A woman in the front seat was hit in the head by one of the "eight or nine shots" fired in the capital's 18th district.

The use of force by French police is a divisive political issue in France, with Mélenchon and other left-wingers frequently criticising security forces.

Darmanin said Monday that police "deserve respect" and that "insulting them dishonours those that want to govern".

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said Tuesday that Mélenchon "is always on the side of thugs, of criminals. He's never on the side of the security forces."

"It's not because someone has died that the police have done something that is open to criticism," she told Franceinfo, adding that police had the right to defend themselves.

The killing of police by jihadists as well as suspected drug dealers in recent years has led to public sympathy for their plight.

A policewoman was killed in southwest France in July 2020 when a car refused to stop and drove through a checkpoint, prompting an outcry at the time.

Police unions also complain about poor pay for officers and difficult working conditions, particularly in low-income suburbs where there is deep rooted hostility towards them.

'French Chavez'

Campaigning ahead of the first round of voting this Sunday is set to intensify this week, with Macron making several trips around the country to lend support to his centrist "Ensemble" ("Together") coalition.

Surveys suggest "Together" is on course for a narrow majority, but the results are viewed as hard to forecast because abstention is predicted to reach record levels of around 50 percent.

Mélenchon and the Nupes alliance – which groups his France Unbowed party, the Socialists, Greens and Communists – are hoping to block newly re-elected Macron by winning a majority.

The first results – for 11 constituencies representing French people living overseas – were published on Monday.

After a first round of voting at the weekend, they showed Macron's candidates finishing top in eight out of the 11 as expected, but Nupes candidates making major gains compared with the last polls in 2017.

Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party and allies have upped their attacks on Mélenchon in recent days, which analysts see as a sign of nervousness.

Senior MP Christophe Castaner said the former Trotskyist promised a "Soviet revolution", while Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire called him a "French Chavez" in reference to late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

Mélenchon is promising to lower the retirement age to 60, introduce wealth taxes on companies and high-earners, and hike the minimum wage by around 15 percent.

Macron needs a parliamentary majority in order to push through his domestic agenda of tax cuts, welfare reform and raising the retirement age.

The 44-year-old defeated Le Pen in the second round of the presidential election on April 24, winning a second five-year term.

(with AFP)

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