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Paris police fire tear gas as George Floyd protests go global

·2-min read

Tear gas has choked Paris streets as riot police faced off with protesters setting fires amid growing global outrage over George Floyd’s death in the US, racial injustice and heavy-handed police tactics around the world.

French protesters took a knee and raised their fists while firefighters struggled to extinguish multiple blazes as a largely peaceful, multiracial demonstration degenerated into scattered tensions.

Several thousand people defied a virus-related ban on protests to pay homage to Mr Floyd and Adama Traore, a French black man who died in police custody.

Chanting “I can’t breathe”, thousands marched peacefully through Australia’s largest city, while thousands more demonstrated in the Dutch capital of The Hague and hundreds rallied in Tel Aviv.

Expressions of anger erupted in multiple languages on social networks, with thousands of Swedes joining an online protest and others speaking out under the banner of #BlackOutTuesday.

Protesters in Paris
Protesters in Paris (Michel Euler/AP)

Mr Floyd died last week after a police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air. The death set off protests that spread across America and beyond.

Fears of coronavirus remained close to the surface and were the reason cited for a ban on Tuesday’s protest at the main Paris courthouse, because gatherings of more than 10 people remain forbidden.

But demonstrators showed up anyway. Some said police violence has worsened during virus confinement in working class suburbs with large minority populations, deepening a feeling of injustice.

As the Paris demonstration wound down, police fired volley after volley of tear gas and protesters threw debris. Tensions also erupted at a related protest in the southern city of Marseille.

The demonstrations were held in honour of Mr Traore, who died shortly after his arrest in 2016, and in solidarity with Americans demonstrating against Mr Floyd’s death.

The Traore case has become emblematic of the fight against police brutality in France. The circumstances of the death of the 24-year-old Frenchman of Malian origin are still under investigation after four years of conflicting medical reports.

His family says he died from asphyxiation because of police tactics — and that his last words were “I can’t breathe”.

Protesters in Sydney
Protesters in Sydney (Rick Rycroft/AP)

“I can’t breathe” were also the final words of David Dungay, a 26-year-old Aboriginal man who died in a Sydney prison in 2015 while being restrained by five guards.

As 3,000 people marched peacefully through Sydney, many said they had been inspired by a mixture of sympathy for African Americans and to call for change in Australia’s treatment of its indigenous population, particularly involving police.

More protests in various countries are planned later in the week, including a string of demonstrations in front of US embassies on Saturday.