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Anger over video of French police surrounding kneeling teenage protesters

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Anger over video of French police surrounding kneeling teenage protesters
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A video shared widely on social networks showing police surrounding student protesters on their knees has sparked a lot of angry reaction in France.

Dozens of teenagers are seen kneeling on the floor in the footage — some are facing a wall with their hands bound behind their backs, while others are lined up in rows with their hands behind their heads as riot police look on.

The source of the video appears to mock the group's behaviour, remarking: "This is a class that is wise."

While the original source of the video is not clear, the incident itself can be authenticated. The dozens of teenagers are kneeling on the floor outside a housing association building, situated across the road from the Saint Exupery High School in Mantes-la-Jolie, France.

Footage captured by local reporters show the same incident from a distance.

MANTES-LA-JOLIE : 151 LYCÉENS INTERPELLÉS APRÈS DES VIOLENCES URBAINES AUX ABORDS DU LYCÉE SAINT-EXUPERY ET LA PATINOIRE.

Publiée par Mantes Actu sur Jeudi 6 décembre 2018

The police operation was part of a crackdown on days of protests over the French government's education reforms, which will see changes to Baccalauréat examinations. The examinations determine a student's eligibility for university.

Student protests were widespread across France on Thursday, from Lille in the country's north to Toulouse in the south. Content shared on social media showed fires being lit in the streets, vehicles being damaged, and violent confrontations between police and protesters.

In Mantes-la-Jolie, where the videos of the kneeling teenagers were filmed, more than 100 people were arrested following violent demonstrations, according to the French interior ministry.

There were "violent clashes between the police and individuals in the district of Val-Fouré, near the Lycée Jules-Saint-Exupéry," the interiory ministry said in a statement released late on Thursday night. "At 12:20, 122 were arrested and placed in custody for participation in a group to prepare for voluntary violence or destruction or damages."

Dozens of those arrested were found to be carrying sticks, baseball bats and tear gas containers, the ministry added.

The mayor of Mantes-la-Jolie, Raphael Cognet, said in a statement on Thursday that he recognised the students' right to protest, but condemned the violence that unfolded.

"I condemn with the biggest firmness this violence and I measure the traumatism that people have gone through... I hope the people breaking things will be prosecuted."

[COMMUNIQUÉ DU MAIRE] Raphaël COGNET, Maire de Mantes-la-Jolie, s'exprime sur les violences et les troubles à l'ordre...

Publiée par Ville de Mantes-la-Jolie (page officielle) sur Jeudi 6 décembre 2018

Nathalie Coste, a teacher at Saint Exupery High School in Mantes-la-Jolie, posted to Facebook her worries for her students involved in the protests.

"With your colleagues, you ask yourself how you can guarantee high schoolers free expression of their disagreements on what worries them... but also protect them from police repression and violence and pure anger from kids who don't believe in anything anymore," she wrote.

"So from tear gas to cars on fire, you tell yourself with your colleagues and friends in a very tired state that such despair came about despite all our efforts, but that we must continue to listen to them and to form them and tell them that life awaits them."

"And then you go back home and you worry. You were able to put your own kids on the right path and that makes you happy, but sad to not have been able to help all those other kids."

Quand tu pars travailler et que toute la semaine jour après jour, le scénario se reproduit avec la crainte qu’un des «...

Publiée par Nathalie Coste sur Jeudi 6 décembre 2018

Online reaction to the videos

However, while protesters were criticised for vandalism, the actions of the police also came into question after the videos of the kneeling teenagers went viral.

Cecile Duflot, the director general of Oxfam in France, said the video showed "intolerable" behaviour from the police.

Former French education minister Benoit Hamon asked what authorities expect as a response to humiliating the French youth. "This is not the Republic," he wrote. "French youth humiliated. What does power seek if not anger in return?"

French politician Clementine Autain said the video was "scary," adding that it was "unacceptable from a human and democratic point of view."