By Timo Kirez
GENEVA (AA) - An online petition calling for the disbandment of a police unit heavily criticized for its crackdown on demonstrations has gathered more than 135,000 signatures on the French National Assembly website, which may now be considered.
The special police unit is the so-called BRAV-M, a mobile brigade made up of teams of two on motorcycles that are deployed in Paris during demonstrations. They were created in early 2019 by then-Paris Police Prefect Michel Delpuech as part of the Yellow Vests movement.
The petition to dissolve BRAV-M was submitted as early as March 23 and had already surpassed the 100,000 signature mark by Monday evening.
This is a record for the petition platform from the Palais Bourbon, the seat of the French National Assembly, which was launched in 2020 to revive the right to petition in France.
The petition, posted online, argues that "the police repression that afflicts our country must lead to put back on the agenda the mandatory dissolution of BRAV-M."
Pointing out that these brigades were created in 2019 "to gag the yellow vest movement," the text accuses the special unit of having become "one of the symbols of police violence."
If the petition reaches more than 500,000 signatories from at least 30 French departments, it could be discussed in public session, according to the National Assembly's rules of procedure.
However, even if the threshold of 500,000 signatures is not reached, the Assembly Bureau will refer the petition to one of the standing committees, in this case, probably the Committee on Legislation.
Fearing it would not get a majority in parliament, President Emmanuel Macron's government had passed the controversial pension reform using Constitutional Article 49. 3, which allows the parliament to be bypassed, on March 16.
Since then, protests against the government's actions have not abated. The protests have also seen repeated violent clashes between demonstrators and police forces.
The French authorities are facing increasing criticism at home and abroad for the sometimes violent police action against participants in the protests.
Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, called the conditions under which freedom of expression and assembly are being exercised in the context of social mobilization against pension reform "worrying" in a statement released last Friday.
"There were violent incidents, some of which were directed against the security forces," Mijatovic said. But "sporadic acts of violence" by some protesters or other reprehensible actions by others during the protests did not justify the "excessive use of force by police officers," she said.