'Saucepans are clearly more dangerous than jackboots'

Paris police in hot seat after neo-Nazi rally okayed but pension protests banned

Weekend sees some 600 members of far-right groups march through city center, even as authorities move to bar anti-government demonstrations where activists bang pots and pans

Members of far-right group "Comite du 9 Mai" gather during a rally in Paris on May 6, 2023. (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)
Members of far-right group "Comite du 9 Mai" gather during a rally in Paris on May 6, 2023. (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

PARIS, France — The Paris police force and France’s interior minister faced questions and criticism Monday over why a march of around 600 neo-Nazis through the streets of the capital was authorized over the weekend.

The rally Saturday by far-right extremists dressed in black came as authorities clamp down on activists protesting against the government by noisily banging pots and pans, with new restrictions put in place Monday to shield President Emmanuel Macron from the auditory ruckus.

The march on Saturday through an upmarket Left Bank district of Paris saw several hundred men from far-right groups march with flags and chant slogans to commemorate the 1994 death of a far-right activist Sebastien Deyzieu.

The protest was authorized by city authorities, and police could be seen patrolling nearby.

Socialist Party senator David Assouline called on Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin to “explain yourself.”

“It’s unacceptable to have allowed 500 neo-Nazis and fascists to parade in the heart of Paris. Their organizations, the display of their ideology, slogans, insignias are as much an insult to the dead as an incitement to racial hatred,” he wrote on Twitter.

France marked its traditional May 8 public holiday on Monday to commemorate the victory of Allied forces over Nazi Germany in 1945 and the lives lost in the fight against fascism.

French President Emmanuel Macron pays his respects at the tomb of the unknown soldier at the Arc de Triomphe as he attends the ceremonies marking the 78th anniversary of the victory against the Nazis and the end of the World War II in Europe, in Paris on May 8, 2023. (JOHANNA GERON / POOL / AFP)

Well-known intellectual Jacques Attali called the rally “intolerable.”

Ian Brossat, a spokesman for the Communist party, joked that “saucepans are clearly more dangerous than jackboots.”

French protesters have revived the tradition of banging cookware together to give politicians a clanging earful as they demonstrate against a deeply unpopular pension reform that will raise the retirement age to 64 from 62.

Demonstrations were banned on Monday around the Champs-Elysees in Paris where Macron attended a May 8 ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe war memorial.

Police in eastern Lyon also outlawed demonstrations Monday near a war memorial where Macron was expected to pay tribute to French Resistance hero Jean Moulin.

An appeal from the CGT trade union was rejected by a local court.

Demonstrators take part in a pan-banging protest in Strasbourg, eastern France on April 17, 2023. (Frederick FLORIN / AFP)

Left-wing charity Attac wrote that the far right “demonstrates their hatred with complete impunity in the center of Paris while the state is seeking to outlaw saucepan-banging.”

The Paris police department reacted on Monday by explaining that it did not have the legal powers to prevent a demonstration unless there was a “proven risk to public order.”

“Given that this demonstration had not caused any problems or public order issues during previous years, the Paris prefect was not in a position to take steps to ban it,” it said in a statement.

Members of far-right group “Comite du 9 Mai” march during a rally in Paris on May 6, 2023. (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

It referred to a previous attempt in January to stop a flaming-torch rally by the far-right “Paris Pride” group, which was overturned by a judge after an appeal by organizers.

The interior ministry has banned a number of extremist anti-immigration groups in recent years, including Generation Identitaire and Zouaves Paris.

The far-right demonstration in Paris on Saturday ended with participants chanting “Europe, youth, revolution”, the slogan of the violent GUD far-right student group that was influential in the 1990s, an AFP reporter said.

Two former GUD members, Axel Loustau and Olivier Duguet, who have previously worked closely with French far-right political leader Marine Le Pen, were photographed at Saturday’s rally, the Mediapart website reported Monday.

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