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Policeman introduces his baton into the trousers of a protester. Twitter screenshot

French Interior Minister caught lying about protesters’ hospital intrusion

The French Interior Minister was outed as a "liar" after he tried to portray an intrusion into a Parisian hospital's resuscitation department as a deliberate "attack" by protesters on May 1.

Published: May 4, 2019, 9:32 am

    In a video, Christophe Castaner’s version of the event was quickly contradicted by the facts of what had really happened.

    The controversy surrounding the intrusion into the hospital of La Pitié-Salpêtrière during the May Day demonstrations was revealed as yet another fake news attempt by the government. While Castaner initially evoked an “attack” against the establishment, a video filmed by the medical staff had undermined this theory and the Minister of the Interior had to retract his incendiary remarks.

    Christophe Castaner told the media that he should not have used the word “attack” in relation to the vents at Pitié-Salpêtrière: “I should not have used the word attack,” he said.

    But the misinformation was not enough to undermine the credibility of France’s top cop for the Prime Minister who announced “total confidence” in his colleague.

    “With regard to the controversies that have been agitating the media-political world over the last 24 hours, I understand that the Minister of the Interior corrected his remarks. He may have been right in choosing the term he used,” Edouard Philippe claimed.

    “‘Violent intrusion’ is the term used by the director of the hospital. ‘Attack’ is the one that came to mind for me after hearing the emotional story of the staff. Remember any term you want,” said Christophe Castaner. “I hear the reproach that has been made against me. I hope that no controversy exists on this subject. Seeing the results, I tell myself that I should not have used it. ‘Violent intrusion’ […] is indeed better adapted and seems confirmed by the videos that have appeared since,” he added.

    During one of the questions he was asked at a press meeting, Castaner was able to confirm his view on the issue on Wednesday, May 3, after the General Inspectorate of the National Police (IGPN) reviewed the broadcast of a video on social networks, reported Le Parisien.

    In the sequence seen in the visual, a CRS throws a paving brick earlier unearthed by black blocks at protesters. “If there is fault, there will be sanction, administrative and judicial” , Castaner announced.

    Initially the Minister of the Interior had tried to stick to his first version: “The facts are there: the enclosure of a hospital has attacked, individuals tried to break into a resuscitation service,” persisted the minister.

    “It’s a very serious incident. It is sad to see that instead of clearly condemning these unacceptable facts, some prefer to play on the words to maintain an unworthy polemic,” he originally claimed, sure of himself.

    But Castaner could eventually no longer defend himself against the attacks of the opposition, which had targeted him since the release of the incriminating video and demanded his resignation.

    On the said video, filmed from the top of the bridge that provides access to the emergency exit of the resuscitation service, many demonstrators can be seen. They had already entered the institution through the access to the university residence Crous, and were being chased down by the police.

    Several protesters then rushed up the stairs leading to this bridge to escape from the police. The entrance door to the emergency facility had been closed and blocked in extremis by medical staff. “It’s the real thing, we can not open!” and “There are sick here!” with some screaming “Go away!”

    Among the demonstrators, were some Yellow Vests, but no individual present at the entrance was either hooded or masked. After a few tense moments, the police managed to evacuate them calmly. A brief exchange then took place between caregivers and protesters, and the door opened once again.

    “They are gassing us!” explained one of them. “They will not do anything to you,” one of the caregivers responded. “They did not understand, they did not know, they just looked for a way out,” explained another caregiver at the end of the video. For LFI MP Éric Coquerel, it was clearly a disavowal for Christophe Castaner, who “must resign”.

    Shortly before the broadcast of this video, Jean-Luc Mélenchon himself had contradicted the words of the Minister of the Interior. “Mr. Castaner is a liar in addition to being incompetent,” he told FranceInfo.

    “Last night he rushed onto national television to pretend that a hospital had been attacked. The word attack is very serious. It means that people are deliberately storming a hospital.

    “Of course it’s not true,” he added. For the leader of the Insubordinate France party, the people “rushed there saying to themselves ‘we are safe’. It’s not called an attack. Finally, you still have to weigh your words. When I tell you that the Minister is a liar, I am weighing my words,” he concluded.

    Because the controversy surrounding the intrusion into the hospital Pitié-Salpêtrière has received so much attention of the public in recent days, the IGPN will look into at least two cases of possible police violence, which occurred during the demonstrations.

    The first concerns a violent slap administered by a police officer to a protester. On a video published on Twitter by the journalist David Dufresne, one can actually see a CRS officer trying to evade a protester by shouting: “Get lost!” Another protester then replies: “You too, get lost!” The reply obviously angered the peacekeeper who then turns around while screaming: “What’s got into you?” The officer then hits the protester hard in the face.

    This scene, filmed in the Montparnasse district of Paris, prompted the Paris police chief Didier Lallement to seize the IGPN to investigate the incident.

    Later in the day, another video trended on social networks. Also by David Dufresne, these images show a policeman introduce his baton in the trousers of a protester on the ground. The Paris prosecutor’s office has decided to open yet another investigation for “violence by person in charge of the public authority”.

    Lallement has entrusted the case to the IGPN for an administrative investigation too.

    To these two reports will be added that of the police officer throwing a paving brick at the demonstrators near the hospital’s emergency entrance.

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