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France: Protests by activists, medics and disgruntled police

PARIS (AP) — French medical workers rallied Wednesday in support of a nurse who was dragged through the dirt by police and detained, amid mounting anger over brutal arrests. Earlier, a few hundred police officers put down their handcuffs at Paris police headquarters Wednesday to demand better working conditions.

The demonstrations came in the context of intensified criticism of police brutality, racial injustice and despair among health care workers over the state of public hospitals that struggled amid the virus crisis.

About 50 people gathered in front of a police station on Paris’ Left Bank to support the nurse, identified only as Farida, who was arrested during a medical workers' protest march Tuesday. The woman's daughter, Imen Mellaz, announced that her mother had been released from custody just before Wednesday’s gathering and charged with rebellion. Before her arrest, the nurse was seen throwing rocks at police.

“Maybe the charges were legitimate, but in no way was the violence proportionate,” her daughter said. In video of the incident shared widely online, police are seen dragging the nurse by her hair, she calls repeatedly for her inhaler, and her forehead is bloodied. The CGT union said one of her ribs was broken. Activists said that what happened to her was part of a pattern of disproportionate use of force by police.

French government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye defended the nurse’s arrest on Tuesday, alleging she had a history of aggressive acts. “The arrest was carried out based on the woman’s prior behavior,” Ndiaye said.

CGT members, activists from France's anti-government yellow vest movement, nurses and allies took part in Wednesday’s rally backing the nurse. Étienne Charenton, a nurse at a psychiatric hospital, said he is tired.

“We are subject to violence every day at work and we were subject to it again at the protest, even though it was mostly about making our demands heard and festive,” he said before the crowd dispersed peacefully.

Another arrest captured on video this week, of a black woman at a train station in the Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois, also drew indignation Wednesday and prompted legal complaints from both the woman and the train station security agents who detained her.

In images shared online, police officers are seen pushing the woman and pinning her on the ground while she screams. A bystander repeatedly says the woman is pregnant. Railway authority SNCF said in a statement that the video was taken out of context, and that the woman spat and was trying to board a train without a ticket. SNCF said she scratched and bit three security officers, and that it has opened an internal investigation into what happened.

Meanwhile, police unions organized a protest of their own, saying they wanted France’s interior minister to resign. Their demonstration Wednesday was the latest of a string of actions by disgruntled French police in response to recent protests around France against police brutality and racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s death in the United States.

French police unions won a victory this week when the government backed down from banning the use of chokeholds during arrests. The Interior Ministry also said French police will start experimenting with expanded stun-gun use.

Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.

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