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French mayor bans Flash Ball riot control guns from Gilets Jaunes protest

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A French riot police officer holds a LDB-40 flashball in Paris in Feb 2019.
A French riot police officer holds a LDB-40 flashball in Paris in Feb 2019. -
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REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
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A French mayor issued a decree to ban police from using Flash Ball riot control guns during the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) protest in his city on Saturday, citing a United Nations demand for a investigation into allegations of police brutality as one of the reasons.

Mayor Dany Kocher from Phalsbourg, a small city of about 5,000 inhabitants in the eastern department of Moselle, issued the decree on Saturday. It was released online by journalist and anti-police brutality activist David Dufresne.

The decree cites the UN's request, issued on Wednesday by its human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, for a "full investigation of all reported cases of excessive use of force."

It also refers to the Council of Europe's February recommendation that French authorities "should suspend the use of LDBs [rubber bullet launchers] during operations aimed at maintaining public order."

Kocher's decision is likely to reignite the debate into the police use of the "LDB40", a weapon described as non-lethal, which projects 40-mm semi-rigid rubber balls.

The debate over whether to ban its use has been raging on in France for weeks after several Gilets Jaunes protesters were severely wounded. One went into a coma, several suffered fractured jaws and according to the "Desarmons-les" (Let's disarm them) group, at least 15 people have been partially blinded.

France's top human rights chief, Jacques Toubon, has backed a ban arguing the rubber-ball launchers "could present a great danger" and calling on "the government to make provisions" but the authorities have rejected criticism, saying the use of the weapon is justified.

The Council of State, the country's highest court, sided with the government on February 1 when it rejected a case brought by the Human Rights League NGO and workers' union CGT to ban the weapon.

It stated that the repeated risk of "violence and destruction" during future protests meant the riot control gun was "necessary to allow forces to maintain order."

The two organisations have appealed the decision.