France’s interior minister has asked the Paris police chief to explain a controversial riot police operation to remove climate activists from a bridge, after a video of officers using pepper spray and dragging protesters went viral on social media.
The interior ministry said the police operation to clear the demonstrators was “necessary to restore traffic circulation in the centre of Paris”.
Protesters from Extinction Rebellion, a civil disobedience movement that began in Britain, blocked traffic on the Pont de Sully in the centre of the city on Friday, as Paris sweltered in a record-breaking heatwave that many blame on global heating.
French police used riot shields and pepper spray to clear scores of climate activists who were seated, cross-legged, blocking the bridge over the Seine. A journalist’s video showing police spraying the demonstrators in the face caused outrage on social media.
A police officer at the scene estimated about 90 protesters had taken part, while Extinction Rebellion put the number at 200. Two people were briefly detained but no arrests were made, protesters said.
“We are trying to make people aware of the ecological problems that are a symptom of the system,” said Sophia Karpenko, a French neuroscientist and spokeswoman with Extinction Rebellion.
Extinction Rebellion describes itself as a non-violent direct-action group. It has carried out a number of high-profile protests in London, including disrupting road and rail travel as part of its efforts to raise awareness of climate change.
The French environment minister, François de Rugy, told French TV the protesters were “radicals” offering no solutions on cutting emissions. He said that when they had refused to move, riot police had had no choice but to remove them one by one.
This week, an independent report found France was falling behind on tackling the climate emergency and failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, despite ambitious promises.