Anarchists, butchers and finance workers in court over Paris riots

Sometimes bruised or with black eyes, demonstrators arrested during anti-government rioting in central Paris on Saturday have appeared in court, showcasing the diverse backgrounds of the people on the streets. Police detained a total of 412 people during the worst clashes in decades in the centre of the French capital which saw security forces pelted with stones, more than 200 vehicles torched and numerous shops vandalised. The first 57 suspects who joined the so-called "yellow vest" protests appeared in fast-track courts on Monday, with dozens of others set to go before magistrates on Tuesday. The overwhelmingly male cast of characters, some sporting visible injuries, included many low-income people from provincial France who came to the capital to express their anger. "With everything that has happened to me in the last 48 hours, I don't want to ever come back," 20-year-old Martial Pissonier, dressed in a leather jacket, said in one of the five court rooms hearing cases on Monday. The truck driver from the town of Roubaix in northeast France was found to be carrying an extendable metal baton when arrested, something the prosecutor described as troubling. "You don't come to a demonstration with an extendable baton to defend yourself," he said. Others included Valentin Lequitte, a 27-year-old with a history of alcohol addiction, who had more than a dozen previous criminal convictions including for resisting arrest, drink-driving and abusing police officers. The mechanic from the town of Dreux, an hour's drive west of Paris, was accused of joining crowds who threw stones at police and was seen giving security forces the middle-finger. "I don't want to go back to prison. I've got a job, an apartment," he pleaded in court, adding that he was trying to change but that "alcohol ruins everything". Michael, a 30-year-old unemployed man from the Rhone region of southeast France, was described by prosecutors as an anarchist after being found wearing a black sweatshirt with ACAB on it, which stands for "All Cops are Bastards". The French government has repeatedly blamed far-right and far-left thugs for the violence in Paris on two successive weekends since the start of the yellow vest protests on November 17. - Riot police head-charge - Others in court had no criminal past and seemingly no radical political views, but were instead the sort of frustrated low-income workers who have joined the "yellow vest" movement in droves. What started out as protests against the introduction of new fuel taxes has spiralled into a broad opposition front to Macron and his pro-business economic reforms since he took power in May 2017. Stephane, a 45-year-old butcher from the Hautes Alpes area of eastern France, said it was the first time he had joined a demonstration like the one on the Champs-Elysees on Saturday. He was accused of charging head-first into a line of riot police, known as CRS. "I would have liked the CRS to come and shake us by the hand, to put themselves on the people's side," he told the court. Jeremy Onselaer, a 22-year-old from the Parisian suburbs, defied any stereotyping: the master's student earns 2,500 euros a month working part-time in the finance department of the national postal service. He was accused of building barricades in the street, attempting to harm police officers and possessing cannabis. His lawyer urged magistrates not to impose a restraining order that would have banned him from the capital, because he had studies to pursue at the Paris School of Business. The strain on police and the justice system caused by so many cases was also evident at the recently opened new Paris city court complex, designed by star Italian architect Renzo Piano. "The conditions for the defence are completely unacceptable," one lawyer complained, adding that she had six clients and had spent only a few minutes with each of them. Many suspects opted to have their trials deferred to prepare their defence, with hearings set to resume next year. In most cases, magistrates ordered the suspects to report to police regularly until their trials, starting on Saturday morning when another day of protests has been announced. There were also numerous cases of instant acquittals due to the flimsiness of evidence provided by police. A 50-year-old nurse from Nice walked free saying he had been randomly arrested while walking in the Bastille area of Paris. "Violence is not part of my thinking," he said, adding that he was a regular practitioner of yoga and meditation. asl-al-jmo-adp/kjl/rlp/nla