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article imagePartly blinded in French demos, protesters seek justice

By AFP bureaus (AFP)     Apr 4, 2019 in World

AFP has interviewed more than a dozen people who say they were blinded in one eye by rubber bullets or other projectiles fired by police during the recent months of "yellow vest" protests in France.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said Thursday that French security services would investigate 209 cases of suspected police violence against "yellow vest" demonstrators.

Authorities have defended the police action during the months of unrest, which have seen thousands of demonstrators fill the streets of Paris and other cities.

Several cases involve the use of so-called defence ball launchers (known in France as LBDs), which fire 40-millimetre rubber projectiles. Their use has been criticised by political parties and civil liberties groups.

Castaner said 1,628 police and gendarmes have also been injured, some seriously, by protesters.

Here are the stories of five of the protesters:

- Franck Didron, gardener -

Didron, 20, was demonstrating in Paris on December 1, when he says he was struck in the head by a rubber bullet.

He has lost the use of his right eye.

Franck Didron fears he will not find work after losing the sight in his right eye from a rubber bull...
Franck Didron fears he will not find work after losing the sight in his right eye from a rubber bullet
LUCAS BARIOULET, AFP

"Yellow vests told me 'watch out, the riot police are charging.' I looked right, and left, and when I turned my head to look behind me I caught an LBD bullet," he told AFP.

He now fears he will not find work again.

"I don't think a boss will take on a worker like me who is missing an eye," he said.

He has brought legal action and has given testimony to police, his lawyer said.

- Alexandre Frey, event manager -

Frey, 37, says he was hit by a rubber bullet on December 8 in Paris after being surrounded by security forces. He has lost the sight in his right eye.

"There was firing everywhere, flames, it was war... At one point my friend was hit in the leg. I reassured him, laid him on his side," he said.

Alexandre Frey says he lost the sight in his right eye after being struck by a rubber bullet in a Pa...
Alexandre Frey says he lost the sight in his right eye after being struck by a rubber bullet in a Paris demo
PHILIPPE HUGUEN, AFP

"They aimed at us again. That's when I took one in the eye, it smashed my eyeball, the socket, retina, everything. I didn't fall but my friends were telling me 'your eye's gone, your eye's gone'!"

As a result of his injury, Frey has difficulty walking and cannot drive. "My life is ruined. I would rather have been sentenced to 10 years in jail," he said.

Frey has brought legal action and police are investigating.

- Fiorina Lignier, student -

Lignier, 20, says she now cannot see from her left eye after it was seriously damaged by an exploding tear gas canister during the December 8 protest in Paris.

Fiorina Lignier says an exploding tear gas canister damaged her left eye during the December 8 prote...
Fiorina Lignier says an exploding tear gas canister damaged her left eye during the December 8 protest in Paris
Philippe HUGUEN, AFP

She said she was among a peaceful group of protesters on the Champs Elysees when "gendarmes prevented us from retreating. The police charged and that is when I was hit by a canister. I felt a shock throughout my body. I blacked out for a few seconds."

She now avoids bright light and must rest after 10 minutes of housework. "The shutters are rarely open, I live like a mole," she said.

A campaign led by far-right groups has raised 50,000 euros for her. "So much solidarity!" she said.

Lignier has brought legal action and police are investigating.

- Patrice Philippe, truck driver -

Philippe, 49, was also at the December 8 demonstration in Paris, but insists he did not go to fight with police. He has lost the sight in his right eye.

He said he tried to retreat when he saw protesters tearing up paving stones on the Champs Elysees, but police blocked the way.

Patrice Philippe says he will campaign against "so-called nonlethal weapons" after being b...
Patrice Philippe says he will campaign against "so-called nonlethal weapons" after being blinded in his right eye by a rubber bullet
MEHDI FEDOUACH, AFP

"I moved forward in a non-aggressive manner. I wanted to speak with a gendarme so he would let me leave... when a grenade explosion stunned me, and a few seconds later I received the LBD round in the eye."

Philippe now wonders how he will provide for his 14-year-old daughter.

He has filed legal action, and police are investigating.

Even if the yellow vest movement dies out, he now sees himself engaged in "a much more important battle... against so-called nonlethal weapons."

- Vanessa Langard, caregiver -

Langard, 33, was demonstrating with friends on December 15 in Paris when she says she was struck in the left eye by a rubber bullet.

Her optic nerve is damaged and she is virtually blind in that eye. She also says she has difficult remembering things.

Vanessa Langard says she has difficulty remembering things after being hit in the eye by a rubber bu...
Vanessa Langard says she has difficulty remembering things after being hit in the eye by a rubber bullet
Martin BUREAU, AFP

She said she was walking away after being turned back from a police line when plainclothed policemen arrived and fired.

"There are lots of things I don't remember. But I have seen pictures of myself on the ground with my head split open. You could see the bone."

She has filed legal action and police are investigating.

"I feel like I'm not myself anymore," she said. "My life now is a daily battle."

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