French soldiers are set to be deployed for the first time during a Yellow Vest protest this weekend. Some reports indicate they are being told to avoid protesters, while others indicate they have been given permission to open fire.
The soldiers have reportedly been redeployed from anti-terror Operation Sentinel duties, and are expected to be placed to government buildings and other sensitive areas rather than engaged in regular law enforcement duties, but communication about their exact role has been poor, according to Le Point.
The military deployment, which follows renewed violence last Saturday and the Emmanuel Macron government’s decision to ban protesters from the Champs-Elysees and other French city centres this Saturday, has been slammed by many, including Les Republicans senator Bruno Retailleau, who labelled it a “fatal decision.”
“It’s a turning point, it’s mostly a failure! I do not know if we used the army in ’68, I do not remember, but using the army, including in static form to protect buildings, is extremely dangerous,” he said.
“The military is not trained in policing. They are trained in combat, to kill and neutralize. This decision is absolutely deplorable.”
“In what European democracy is the army called in to police a social movement?” added Raphaël Glucksmann, who will lead France’s Socialist Party, for which President Macron was a government minister under predecessor François Hollande, in the upcoming European Parliament elections.
Yellow Vest Claims Movement Has 'Paramilitaries' Ready to Overthrow Macron https://t.co/QyTH1AQm37
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) February 16, 2019
Colonel Guillaume Thomas, deputy spokesman for the Armed Forces Staff, also suggested that Sentinel soldiers would not be taking part in regular police action on Saturday, and were merely “continuing our anti-terrorist mission… there is no question of sending soldiers to maintain law and order: they are not trained or equipped for this purpose.”
Some in the media and elsewhere have raised fears of soldiers opening fire on violent protesters — fears Colonel Thomas claimed were unfounded, as the soldiers were not likely to be in contact with rioters.
“[T]he soldiers know how to anticipate situations, and if necessary appeal to the internal security forces if they witnessed looting or other abuses, or to escape a problematic situation,” he said.
However, when asked what would happen if a group of soldiers were cornered, Col Thomas simply remarked, “they are fighters.”
These sentiments appeared to be echoed by Paris military governor General Bruno Le Ray in comments to FranceInfo, with the commander remarking that Sentinel personnel are “subject to the same legal framework as the internal security forces” and can “go until the opening of fire… if their life is threatened or that of people they defend” .
Macron Had Helicopter on Standby to Escape Presidential Palace During Protests https://t.co/qOu4EQKnzv
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) December 14, 2018
The Yellow Vest protests have gone on every Saturday for the last 18 weeks now, and have seen Yellow Vest figures advocate storming the presidential palace and a helicopter being held on standby to help President Macron escape if such an event were to occur.
Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at @TomlinsonCJ or email at ctomlinson(at)breitbart.com