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French police charged over black man’s beating

Stuart WILLIAMS and Jürgen HECKER

Four French police officers were charged Monday over the beating and racial abuse of a black music producer, a case that has outraged France and ramped up pressure on the government to give ground on a controversial security bill

The assault of Michel Zecler — exposed in video footage published last week — has become a new rallying cause for critics who accuse the police of institutionalised racism and brutality.

President Emmanuel Macron summoned cabinet ministers and parliamentary leaders to a crisis meeting Monday to rapidly produce “suggestions to re-establish confidence” between the police and the population, government sources said.

Later Monday, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin is to face questions from a parliamentary commission over the new security law, which would restrict the right of the press — and of social media users — to publish images of on-duty police.

Rallies against the law mobilised tens of thousands at the weekend, with dozens wounded during clashes with police in Paris, including a Syrian photographer who has worked for AFP.

– Policemen behind bars –

A Paris investigating magistrate early Monday charged all four officers with assault by a person holding public authority. Three were also charged with fabricating their statement on the incident.

Two of the accused — including the most senior officer, a police brigadier aged 44 — will remain behind bars but the other two were freed on conditional release, a judicial source told AFP.

On Sunday, Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz called for three of the officers to be also charged with racial abuse.

He said that the officers had acknowledged that their use of force was unjustified, but that they claimed they had acted in “fear” and “panic,” and denied any racist abuse.

The four officers had good prior service records, Heitz added.

Zecler had been stopped for not wearing a mask and because of a strong smell of cannabis. A tiny quantity of the substance was found, he said.

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