French MPs approve controversial anti-riot bill

French MPs on Tuesday approved by 387 votes to 92 an anti-rioting bill giving security forces the power to ban suspected hooligans from demonstrating, news wires reported. Opponents say the bill, considered as a bid to crack down on violence that has marred Yellow Vest protests, contravenes the constitutional right to demonstrate.

Under its most contentious provision, government officials would be able to ban people suspected of being hooligans from taking part in demonstrations – without oversight from a judge.Inspired by legislation used to crack down on football hooligans, the new law calls for a six-month prison sentence and a €7,500 fine for violators. The legislation, if passed by the upper house and approved by the constitutional council, would also allow fines of €15,000 and a one-year prison term for demonstrators covering or masking their faces to escape identification. It would also hand French police greater powers to search would-be demonstrators for weapons.

Strangely, some 50 MPs from Macron’s own party, the Republic on the Move (LREM), abstained from voting in favour of the legislation in a sign of divisions within the group. Banning people from demonstrating without judicial oversight “could be wrongly used in the future by an ill-intentioned regime, from the extreme right for example,” LREM MP Matthieu Orphelin warned ahead of the vote.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner denied that the bill was “freedom killing”, arguing that it was needed in response to “a handful of hooligans who threaten our right to demonstrate”.The bill is expected to return to the upper house of parliament on March 12.

France adopted a similar, though much tougher, law in 1970, two years after the widespread civil unrest of May 1968. Socialist President Francois Mitterrand scrapped that law, which allowed prison sentences of one to five years for violent demonstrators, a few months after taking office in 1981.

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