US Supreme Court hears arguments in abortion pill case

U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday did not appear ready to limit access to the abortion pill mifepristone, in a case that could have far-reaching implications for millions of American women and for scores of drugs regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

It’s the first abortion-related case the court has taken since a majority of the current justices struck down the constitutional right to abortion in 2022.

A group of anti-abortion doctors had asked the court to restrict access to mifepristone and to limit when in a pregnancy it could be used. 

Key moments from the arguments:

The FDA approved mifepristone in 2000 as a safe and effective way to end early pregnancies. Last year the pill was used in more than six in 10 of the abortions in the U.S.

The central argument of the conservative group challenging mifepristone is that the Food and Drug Administration overlooked serious problems with the drug when it eased restrictions on the drug, including making it available via mail in 2021. 

Erin Hawley, who represented the doctors suing the agency, argued the FDA “failed to consider or explain … its wholesale removal of safeguards” on the pill.

Read moreThe long and winding history of the war on abortion drugs

But the FDA has long argued its decision to drop in-person appointments to get mifepristone, among other requirements, came after 20 years of monitoring its safety. In that period the agency reviewed dozens of studies in thousands of women in which serious problems — including hospitalization — occurred less than 0.3% of the time.

Hawley pointed out that FDA’s own prescribing label mentions that 2.9% to 4.6% of women taking the drug go to the emergency room. But Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar pointed to studies showing that half of women who go to the emergency room don’t get any treatment at all.

“Many women might go because they’re experiencing heavy bleeding, which mimics a miscarriage, and they might just need to know whether or not they’re having a complication, ” Prelogar said.

Because of the highly technical nature of reviewing drug data and research, courts have long deferred to FDA’s scientific judgements on safety and effectiveness.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson pressed Hawley on the legal basis for second-guessing the agency’s regulators.

“So what deference do we owe them at all with respect to their assessment that these studies establish what it is that they say they do about safety and efficacy?”

Hawley ran into questions as she argued that a nationwide rule curtailing mifepristone use was needed. 

She was repeatedly interrupted by Justice Neil Gorsuch, who voiced objections to such sweeping injunctions.

The case “seems like a prime example of turning what could be a small lawsuit into a nationwide legislative assembly on an FDA rule or any other federal government action,” said Gorsuch.

Normally when a court issues an injunction about a government policy it only applies to the individuals or groups in the case. But in recent years a growing number of justices on lower courts have issued “universal injunctions,” blocking federal regulations nationwide.

Gorsuch noted that there have been roughly 60 such rulings in the last four years.

Chief Justice John Roberts also seemed skeptical that a ruling reversing the FDA’s scientific judgments was necessary.

“Why can’t the court specify that this relief runs to precisely the parties before the court as opposed to looking to the agency in general and saying, ‘Agency, you can’t do this anywhere?’”

The Biden administration argued that the plaintiffs — a group called the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine — didn’t have the right to challenge the FDA’s actions on mifepristone. 

The doctors who brought the suit argued that they might have to treat emergency room patients who experience serious complications after taking the drug. 

But Prelogar told the court that the doctors don’t have to prescribe mifepristone and they can abstain from treating patients who have taken the pill if they oppose abortion.

“They don’t prescribe mifepristone,” Prelogar said. “They don’t take mifepristone, obviously. The FDA is not requiring them to do or refrain from doing anything. They aren’t required to treat women who take mifepristone.”

Justice Samuel Alito, however, repeatedly pressed the government on who did have the right to sue over FDA’s decisions. 

“Is there anybody who can sue and get a judicial ruling on whether what FDA did was lawful?” Alito, who wrote the 2022 ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, asked. 

Several justices pressed Hawley to provide real-life examples of doctors who oppose abortion being forced to treat patients who had suffered from abortion pill complications.

They also took issue with how many hypothetical problems Hawley raised in her argument against the FDA’s loosening of abortion pill restrictions.

“I don’t want to hypothesize,” Jackson said to Hawley, asking her to provide an example of a doctor who was unable to object to providing an abortion.

At one point, Justice Amy Coney Barrett also questioned an example one of the doctors provided of a colleague who had to perform a “dilation and curettage” procedure on a patient with complications. Barrett pointed out that those procedures are not just performed in cases of abortions but for miscarriages as well. 

Some of the justices also pointed out that doctors are already protected from performing abortions when they don’t want to by voicing conscience objection. 

Justice Brett Kavanaugh raised that point early on: “Under federal law, no doctors can be forced against their consciences to perform or assist in an abortion, correct?”

For more than a century, the FDA has had sole authority over assessing the safety of drugs and approving their sale in the U.S.

The agency first approved mifepristone in 2000 following a four-year review, including detailed safety studies submitted by the French manufacturer. In 2016, FDA loosened restrictions on the drug to allow it to be prescribed up to 10 weeks of pregnancy and allowed nurses and other medical professionals to prescribe it. In 2021, the agency said the drug could be sent through the mail, doing away with a longstanding requirement that women to pick the drug up in person.

Jessica Ellsworth, an attorney representing the New York-based Danco Laboratories, which makes mifepristone, asked the justices to consider how the case could upend the FDA’s decades-old system for regulating drugs, vaccines and other life-saving medicines.

“I think this court should think hard about the mischief it would invite if it allowed agencies to start taking action based on statutory responsibilities that Congress has assigned to other agencies,” she said.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk’s decision last year marked the first time a court had issued a decision to revoke approval of a drug FDA had deemed safe. An open letter signed by nearly 300 biotech and pharmaceutical company leaders last year slammed the ruling as undermining Congress’ delegated authority to the FDA to approve and regulate drugs. If justices can unilaterally overturn drug approvals, they said “any medicine is at risk.”


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Trial without a lawyer: Cuts leave families without lawyers in UK

Going to trial without representation? That’s what more and more people in England and Wales are facing. Cuts implemented to government-funded legal aid have left many without a choice. Among the hardest hit areas is family law.


“A week before the hearing date, I realised I was going to have to represent myself in court”, recalls Louisa, a grandmother who had to fight for her grandson’s custody.

Louisa had been looking after her grandson for two years, when social services informed her that she needed to lodge an application with the family courts if she wished to keep custody.

“From this point on, I had no idea what to do”, she states.

A legal aid crisis

Louisa knew she could not afford a lawyer – but as she would discover that meeting the criteria for government funded legal aid – was also not enough to obtain one.

The 2012 LASPO Act – implemented in 2013 – brought in drastic cuts to legal aid, especially for family law cases. To obtain legal aid in England and Wales, individuals must earn less than £2,657 a month (€3,039.20). Although this threshold may seem generous, bills for family lawyers quickly rack up to the thousands – or hundreds of thousands.

“Solicitors don’t have enough time to devote to these cases, even people who are eligible for help have very little chance of finding a solicitor,” explains Jenny Beck, co-founder of family law firm Beck & Fitzgerald.

The legal aid fee paid to lawyers is set by the government – and usually at a fixed hourly rate. This fee has not increased since 1996 when inflation is factored in – and legal aid fees were reduced by 10% in 2011.

“Many firms turn down cases, especially when they are complex – for instance if the client needs an interpreter, has mental health problems or if it’s complex law”, adds Jenny Beck. 

The barriers to accessing legal aid

Louisa contacted five firms but only one accepted to send an application to be reviewed by the Legal Aid Agency. 

Louisa received a response – her fees would be covered if she made a £3,000 (€3435) contribution. She refused this offer, explaining she could not afford the fee. A second proposal then came through, asking for a £500 (€577.69) contribution, which she could also not pay. 

“Months of stress and time spent putting together an application which amounted to nothing”, Louisa tells Euronews.

In May 2023, the government implemented measures to facilitate access to legal aid in child custody cases. But according to Kinship Carers, a charity that protects the rights of families “the measure does not go far enough and many grandparents are assessed on their capital to access legal aid, but they have no income.”

Louisa recalls the day of the hearing, “I was sitting in the waiting room and I saw lawyers walking past, complainants getting angry, other people shouting. I was so anxious. I managed to win the case. This was all due to the Suffolk Law Centre’s help – but it was still a horrible experience,” concluded Louisa.

Legal advice centres

“Complainants are often overcome with emotion during hearings and leave the court confused. We ask them to write everything down – what they have to do and by when,” Sharon O’Donnell, Family Law Caseworker at the Suffolk Law Centre tells Euronews.

“We don’t have the budget to offer advocacy services. There is only so much we can help with, especially when people come to us late in the legal process”, explains Sue Wardell, Operations Manager at the Suffolk Law Centre. 

In 2016, the number of cases in which two litigants face each other in court without representation has risen by 30% since 2012.

Legal advice centres are funded by the national Legal Aid Agency – but in recent years the number of these centres has declined. In 2021, there were 59% fewer centres than in 2009, according to the Law Society. A drop in the number of centres due to a decline in funding which has led to advice deserts – swathes of England and Wales where there are no legal aid advice centres.

When Euronews spoke to the Suffolk Law Centre back in October they were operating at ‘maximum capacity’, accepting no new cases until January 2024.


Cases refused by lawyers

But according to some lawyers, legal advice centres can also generate problems.

“These organisations have advisers but they are often not trained lawyers. They will help you fill in the required forms, but they can also add fuel to the fire. Lawyers are trained to avoid litigation, to de-escalate a situation and encourage mediation’, explains Jenny Beck, co-founder of family law firm Beck & Fitzgerald.

Following the 2013 legal aid regulation, only domestic violence and child abuse cases guarantee legal aid in private family proceedings. According to the latest government figures, roughly 84% of family law cases supported by evidence of child or domestic abuse received funding. 

Finding a lawyer at the last minute

Last July, Marion, a mother of three young children, received a letter from her ex-husband’s lawyer. It was requesting custody of their children.

“My ex-partner was abusive, sometimes physically but mainly emotionally. I wanted us to stay on good terms but after we separated, he tried to take our children and the police intervened.”


Marion didn’t know legal advice centres existed – so she navigated the legal system alone – assisted by a friend who was a former lawyer. The process was draining, “I was the one replying to my ex partner’s lawyer, there was no intermediary to protect me”, she recalls. 

Only one legal firm accepted to make a legal aid application for Marion’s case. After it was refused, she realised she would have to represent herself in court. 

Marion recalls how “terrified” she was on the day of the hearing. 

But a stroke of luck came her was, as she discovered a free on-site representation service funded by the Central England Law Centre while in the waiting room. Although many courts do not offer these services – Marion was able to speak with a paralegal – who was able to represent her. 

“I was in distress because my ex partner’s solicitor had demanded a ‘fact-finding hearing’ at the last minute. The paralegal explained that it wasn’t too late to change my mind and advised against me doing it. I would have had no idea”, Marion explains.


“In the courtroom, I kept telling myself ‘don’t cry, stop shaking, don’t throw up’. I could barely control my body, it was impossible to digest everything that was happening around me – l can’t think how I would have represented myself”, she recalls.

As it stands, the case is still ongoing. Marion has an upcoming court date, for which she does not yet know whether she will have a lawyer.

The government’s response

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson told Euronews it had “widened” the “evidential requirements” “for victims of domestic abuse applying for legal aid to make it easier for them to prove their claims”.  

A spokesperson underlined that “last year alone we spent £2 billion (around €2,302,599) helping people in legal difficulty and have recently widened the scope of legal aid to help more victims of domestic abuse and family cases.”

While the Ministry of Justice insists that the “priority is to ensure that legal aid is available to those who need it most”, with a review on legal aid access set to be published in 2024.


Names have been changed in this story to respect the anonymity of interviewees.

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Diana Salazar, the prosecutor spearheading Ecuador’s fight against ‘narcopolitics’

Attorney General Diana Salazar is the leading figure in Ecuador’s fight against “narcopolitics”. As the country’s top prosecutor, her revelations have already led to the arrest of several high-level officials, including judges and other prosecutors accused of involvement in organised crime linked to drug trafficking. 

Ecuador is waging a war against the rise of “narcopolitics” and the powerful drug gangs who have infiltrated the country’s political system. Leading the fight is Attorney General Diana Salazar, who has launched what she described as the country’s “largest operation against corruption and drug trafficking in history”. 

Nicknamed the “Ecuadorian Loretta Lynch” after the US attorney general who served under Barack Obama, Salazar launched “Caso Metastasis” – a vast investigation into collusion between drug traffickers and government officials – following the October 2022 death in prison of powerful drug lord Leandro Norero.

More than 900 people took part in the investigation, which resulted in more than 75 raids and 30 arrests in mid-December. 

Ecuador has descended into chaos in recent weeks, with drug gangs going on a violent rampage. Hundreds of prison staff were taken hostage, a TV station was attacked live on air and explosions were reported in several cities. The latest violence erupted soon after the escape from prison of notorious crime boss Jose Adolfo Macias, known as “Fito”, the leader of Los Choneros, the country’s biggest gang. Ecuador’s President Daniel Noboa said earlier this month that the country was in a “state of war” against the drug cartels behind the violence.

Most recently, a prosecutor investigating the brief siege of the TV station was shot dead on Wednesday in the port city of Guayaquil. 

In a statement on X following the murder, Salazar vowed to continue Ecuador’s fight against drug gangs, saying “organised crime groups, criminals, terrorists will not stop our commitment to Ecuadoran society”. 

Ecuador’s first Black, female attorney general 

A well-known figure on Ecuador’s anti-corruption scene, Salazar, 42, is the country’s first Black woman to hold the position of attorney general.  

She comes from the northern Andean city of Ibarra, where local media says she grew up in a modest family, raised by a single mother of four. 

Salazar moved to Quito when she was 16 for high school. At the age of 20, while still a law student at the Central University of Ecuador, Salazar began working as an assistant prosecutor in the Pichincha provincial prosecutor’s office. By 2011 she had become the public prosecutor for the southern part of the province. 

Salazar, who later started handling cases involving organised crime and corruption, came to prominence when she led the investigation into the “Fifa Gate” affair in 2015, resulting in a 10-year prison sentence for Ecuador’s former football chief Luis Chiriboga for money laundering.   

Salazar also helped prosecute Ecuador’s former vice president Jorge Glas, who was implicated in a corruption case against Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. 

Led by Salazar, the investigation revealed that Glas, who was sentenced to six years in prison in 2017, received $13.5 million in bribes from Odebrecht. 

“The Odebrecht affair was a real test for Diana Salazar,” said Sunniva Labarthe, a doctor in political sociology at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris. “A lot of people thought she would be quickly removed from office as a consequence, but she’s managed to hold her ground … It shows that she is a credible and stable figure.” 

Salazar was elected attorney general for the first time in 2019. “In Ecuador, the attorney general position – known as ‘the fiscal’ – has become extremely important and scrutinised since the ministry of justice was abolished in 2018,” Labarthe said.  

Salazar even went after former president Rafael Correa (2007-2017) who in 2020 was sentenced to eight years in absentia for corruption and who later fled to Belgium

In 2021 Salazar was given an Anti-Corruption Champions Award by the US State Department, which said her “courageous actions in tackling these cases have made immense contributions to transparency and the rule of law in Ecuador”. 

Operation Metastasis

In a video message addressed to the public in December 2023, Salazar said that her office had uncovered a “criminal structure” that involves judges, prosecutors, prison officials and police officers, following the investigation into Norero’s death.

Salazar’s team scoured chats and call logs from Norero’s cellphone and found links to high-ranking state officials who handed out favours in exchange for money, gold, prostitutes, apartments and other luxuries.  

The operation revealed the extent of the corruption and infiltration of drug trafficking into the highest levels of government in Ecuador. 

“Salazar deserves credit for having carried out her operation in the utmost secrecy, so as to prevent the drug traffickers from being informed of the arrests,” said Emmanuelle Sinardet, professor of Latin American civilisations at Paris Nanterre University.  

“Managing to keep an investigation confidential is no mean feat in a country where corruption and the influence of drug trafficking are deeply rooted in state institutions,” she said. 

Regularly receiving death threats, Salazar has since largely kept out of the public eye, only appearing on occasion in a bullet-proof vest or surrounded by security.  

Ecuador’s top prosecutor, however, remains undaunted.  

“Now come and kill me,” she taunted her enemies at a recent hearing requesting prison terms for eight suspects. 

“Salazar’s courage, knowing full well that she is risking her life to fight corruption, makes her popular and appreciated by Ecuadoreans,” according to Sinardet. 

While Salazar has been criticised for her ambition and her alleged connections to powerful interests, “in the face of the threats to her and her family, the public sees her as a figure of integrity and dedication to the common good”, Sinardet says. “She is seen as the judicial arm of the state’s fight to restore authority and order to the streets.”  

Labarthe said the threats against those battling drugs and corruption are real, and widespread.

“We must not forget that all the other people involved in the fight against corruption – including lawyers, judges, investigators and journalists – are also under threat,” Labarthe said, adding: “We can only hope that Diana Salazar stays alive.” 

This article was translated from the original in French.

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Supreme Court ruling: Checkmate for Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu?

From our special correspondent in Israel – Three months into the war between Israel and Hamas, the Israeli Supreme Court dealt two major blows to Binyamin Netanyahu and his governing coalition this week. The court struck down an essential part of the government’s polarising judicial reform plan and postponed the implementation of a law shielding the PM from mandatory recusals. FRANCE 24 spoke to Dr. Amir Fuchs, a senior researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, about the impact these decisions will have.

Issued on:

5 min

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu suffered a major setback on Monday as the country’s top court voted narrowly (8 to 7) to overturn a law passed in July that took away judges’ ability to veto government and parliament decisions that they deem “unreasonable”. 

The law was a key component of the government’s contentious plan to overhaul the country’s judicial system that sparked massive protests across the country. 

On Wednesday, the Israeli prime minister suffered another legal defeat as justices ruled (6 to 5) to delay the enforcement of a controversial law that would shield Netanyahu from being forced to recuse himself from office if ordered to do so by the attorney general or the Supreme Court. 

The recusal law, which was passed in March, will now only go into effect at the beginning of the next term of the Israeli parliament after the next general elections.  

The Israeli high court’s rulings comes as Netanyahu’s popularity plummets in opinion polls amid mounting criticism of Israel’s offensive on Gaza.  

According to a recent survey, Netanyahu’s party – Likud – would win only half of the seats it currently occupies (16 versus 32) if elections were held now. 

To better understand the impact of the high court’s decisions, FRANCE 24 spoke to Dr. Amir Fuchs, a senior researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute.  

Dr. Amir Fuchs, a senior researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, in Kfar Sava, Israel on January 4, 2024. © Assiya Hamza, FRANCE 24

France 24: What would have been the consequences of this reform had it not been overturned by the Supreme Court? 

Fuchs: The government’s reform aimed to reduce the power of the judiciary. Israel doesn’t have a formal constitution. But we do have these Basic Laws that serve as a quasi-constitution. If a law goes against the Basic Laws, the Supreme Court can say this is an unconstitutional law, and they can therefore strike it down. This has happened just under 20 times in 30 years since the Supreme Court altered Israel’s system of government in 1995.

In Israel, we don’t have checks and balances as in other country’s systems. For example, we don’t have a real separation of powers between the executive and the legislature. The government rules through a majority coalition in parliament. If you win a simple majority of 61 seats, you can do whatever you want. The only thing we have as a counterbalance is a strong and independent Supreme Court. And what Netanyahu’s government wanted to do was to change that. 

The government also wanted to change how the judges are nominated. So that they could just appoint the judges they wanted.

The attorney general heads the state prosecution system. Netanyahu is currently facing charges of fraud and corruption. If the law had been passed, Netanyahu could just fire his prosecutor and pick another one, which would be more convenient for him.

The high court also postponed the recusal law which aims to protect Netanyahu, stating that it was “clearly personal” in nature”. What does that mean? 

Fuchs: For decades we had a very vague law which said that when the prime minister is incapacitated, then someone will replace him. But it didn’t explain what the grounds for this incapacity might be. Would it be on medical grounds or for other reasons? Nothing was written about this – or the procedures to be followed. 

So Netanyahu’s government decided to change the Incapacitation Law – meaning that only when the prime minister himself says he is incapacitated, or three quarters of the government says he is, would the prime minister then be recused.

The government then needs a two-thirds majority in the Knesset. They introduced measures to ensure that this would never happen. After they voted for it, Netanyahu announced to everyone that his hands were no longer tied. However, the court said the law was “clearly personal in nature” and postponed its enforcement until the next Knesset. So the law won’t be implemented until the next elections. 

Can Netanyahu be impeached? 

Fuchs: If there is a majority of 61 MPs, they can just hold a no confidence vote and form a new government. 

But what can happen – and what always happens in Israel when a government loses political support – is that they just announce new elections. And for that, you need 61 MPs in the Knesset who support a new election. And the whole opposition will agree with that. We’ve seen in polls that a lot of people who voted for the coalition are now totally against it.  I don’t know when the war will end. But if the war ends tomorrow, they will probably announce an election.

Will Netanyahu be held accountable for the October 7 attacks? 

If the government changes, there will be an investigation committee, which is very independent because it is appointed by the Supreme Court, not by the government. This is what usually happens after big failures like what happened in 73, and in 82, when Christian militias, with the support of the Israeli army, massacred up to 2,000 Palestinians in Lebanon’s Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. 

The committee will ask Netanyahu hard questions and they will deliver a verdict. And they will say that he is to blame. He was negligent. He cannot be re-elected. For example, when they said that former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who also served as defence during the Sabra and Shatila massacres, can no longer be defence minister, he was removed from office.

If Netanyahu is convicted in his various trials, will he be able to stay in power? 

If he’s convicted in a final court decision after the appeal, then according to the Basic Laws, he has to step down. It will take time – at least another year.

Maybe after the war when Netanyahu will see that everything is falling apart, he might get some kind of deal – whereby he doesn’t go to prison and isn’t even convicted of anything serious in exchange for stepping down and not participating in the election. 

Once Netanyahu understands that he can’t be re-elected, then maybe he will go for the deal. And I’m kind of sure that the attorney general will aim for such a deal so he/she doesn’t have to deal with the trial. 

Again, this is an optimistic scenario. I’m not sure that this will happen. A lot of people were sure that that this would happen years ago when he was indicted in 2019 on corruption charges. But he chose to fight and ran in elections again and again. He’s never given up but maybe he will have some good advisors that will say: “This is the time to step down, you’re not popular enough, you won’t get elected. So at least use that bargaining chip to close all the criminal files on you.”

This article has been translated from the original in French

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

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What we know about the French senator accused of drugging an MP in attempted sex assault

French Senator Joël Guerriau is facing preliminary charges of drugging a fellow lawmaker with the intent to commit “rape or sexual assault”, prosecutors confirmed Friday, in a case that has shocked France. Guerriau was suspended from both his Horizons party and his Senate group on Saturday. 

The 66-year-old senator from western France was arrested at his Paris home on Thursday over the alleged attempted assault of Sandrine Josso, 48, a member of the lower-house National Assembly. He is accused of drugging the MP by spiking her drink after he invited her to his home. 

Guerriau was placed under judicial supervision on Friday pending the outcome of the investigation, restricting his freedom of movement. Prosecutors said the two politicians were long-standing acquaintances but were not in a relationship. 

Guerriau’s centre-right party Horizons, which is allied to President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party, said on Saturday it had suspended the senator “with immediate effect” and initiated disciplinary proceedings “that could lead to his permanent exclusion”.  

His Senate group Les Indépendants, which includes senators from Horizons and other centre-right parties, announced it was taking the same steps in a statement shortly after.

  • What has Guerriau been charged with?

Guerriau is facing preliminary charges of “administering to a person, without their knowledge, a substance likely to impair their discernment or control over their actions in order to commit rape or sexual assault”, according to the Paris public prosecutor’s office.  

His lawyer Rémi-Pierre Drai said he denies the charge. Guerriau was also charged with possessing drugs, Drai added.

Joël Guerriau, 66, has been a French senator since 2011. © Paul Brounais, Wikimedia Creative Commons

The senator was arrested after Josso filed a legal complaint. He was detained under rules of “flagrancy”, which grant investigators special powers – such as overriding parliamentary immunity – when the suspect is caught in the act or shortly thereafter. Searches were carried out at Guerriau’s office and also at his home, where investigators found ecstasy, a potent drug that causes both stimulant and hallucinogenic effects. 

Guerriau and the alleged victim were jointly questioned, in their lawyers’ presence, for nearly two hours on Friday, a common practice in France known as a “confrontation”. After his release from police custody, the senator was placed under judicial supervision and banned from contacting Josso or any witnesses. 

Under French law, preliminary charges mean that the investigating magistrates have strong reason to suspect wrongdoing but need more time to determine whether to send a case to trial. Charges levelled at Guerriau carry a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and a €75,000 fine.

  • What do we know about the incident? 

Josso told investigators she felt ill after having a drink on Tuesday night at the senator’s Paris apartment, prosecutors said. According to French broadcaster BFMTV, which cited sources close to the investigation, the MP told police that the two had initially agreed to meet at a restaurant but that Guerriau suggested they dine at his home instead.

Her lawyer, Julia Minkowski, told AFP that her client felt unwell after drinking a glass of champagne and had seen the senator “grabbing a small plastic bag containing something white in a drawer in his kitchen”. Josso then realised that he was trying to drug her without her knowledge, the counsel added. 

“She had to deploy monumental physical and intellectual forces to overcome her terror and extricate herself at the last minute from this ambush,” Minkowski said, adding that her client was “in a state of shock”. 

Josso was admitted to hospital for tests, which revealed the presence of ecstasy in her system. The lawmaker subsequently lodged a complaint. 

Guerriau’s lawyer denied his client intended to assault the lawmaker, claiming it was a “handling error” that caused her to fall ill. The senator “will fight to prove he never intended to administer a substance to his colleague and longstanding friend to abuse her”, Drai said in a statement to the press. 

A former banker, Guerriau has been a member of the Senate, the French parliament’s upper house, since 2011, representing the western Loire-Atlantique region. He currently serves as deputy head of its foreign affairs and defence committee.  

Guerriau joined Horizons, the party created by former prime minister Edouard Philippe, in 2022, having previously been involved with a variety of centre-right parties. He was also deputy head of Les Indépendants, the group he sits with in the French Senate.

Guerriau’s lawyer said his client was “not a predator”, describing him as “an honest man, respected and respectable, who will restore his and his family’s honour”.  

The senator was previously unknown to the general public, though he made waves on social media in December 2016 when a post on the Islamic State (IS) group appeared on his Twitter account with a close-up picture of a penis. Guerriau claimed his account had been hacked and vowed to press charges, but later dropped the matter.  

Josso is a member of the lower-house National Assembly, also from Loire-Atlantique. She was first elected in 2017 under the banner of Macron’s fledgling party La République en Marche (LREM) and is now a member of its centrist ally MoDem. 

Her lawyer said Guerriau “had been a friend for around 10 years in whom she had complete confidence”, stressing her client’s “feeling of betrayal and total incomprehension”.   

  • What has been the response among the political class? 

Several politicians have expressed their shock on social media and called for a swift investigation.  

The allegations, “if proven, are horrific”, Environment Minister Christophe Béchu, a member of Horizons, told France Inter radio on Friday, adding that Guerriau “can obviously no longer remain in the party (…) if there is any element of doubt”.  

Horizons’ political bureau voted unanimously on Saturday to suspend Guerriau “with immediate effect”. Bureau members said they were “deeply shocked by the facts at the root of the accusations” and had initiated a “disciplinary procedure that could lead to (the senator’s) permanent exclusion”. 

The party said it would “never tolerate the slightest complacency toward sexual and sexist violence” and promised to call the plaintiff to express its support and solidarity. 

Guerriau’s Senate group released a statement shortly after, saying it had also suspended the senator and initiated disciplinary proceedings. 

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Trump turns New York fraud trial into campaign stop, ‘a witch hunt’

Donald Trump’s court appearances are no longer distractions from his campaign to return to the White House. They are central to it.

The dynamic was on full display Monday as the former president and GOP front-runner returned to New York for the opening day of a civil fraud trial accusing him of grossly inflating the value of his businesses.

Trump was under no obligation to appear Monday and did not address the court. But he nonetheless seized the opportunity to create a media spectacle that ensured he was back in the spotlight. And he once again portrayed himself as a victim of a politicized justice system — a posture that has helped him emerge as the undisputed leader of the 2024 GOP primary.

The scene was much like the one that has played out over and over since the spring as Trump has reported to courthouses and a local jail to be processed in four criminal indictments. Once again, reporters waited in line overnight to snag seats in the courtroom; news helicopters tracked his motorcade journey from Trump Tower to the courthouse in lower Manhattan; and cable networks carried the spectacle live on TV.

The appearance demonstrated how deftly Trump has used his legal woes to benefit his campaign. The former president’s Monday appearance drew far more attention than a standard campaign rally would have offered. And it gave Trump a fresh opportunity to rile up his base and gin his fundraising with claims that the cases he faces are nothing more than a coordinated attempt to damage his campaign.

“It’s a scam, it’s a sham,” he said in the morning. “It’s a witch hunt and a disgrace.”

While some rivals had once thought Trump’s long list of legal woes might dissuade Republican voters from choosing him as their nominee, his standing in the GOP primary has only improved since before the indictments and helped him raise millions of dollars.

While other politicians might shy away from drawing additional attention to accusations of wrongdoing, Trump took full advantage of the cameras.

He addressed the media assembled outside the courtroom multiple times throughout the day, railing against the case and offering commentary.

“Every lawyer would say, ‘Don’t talk.’ Every candidate would obey the lawyer. Trump just throws out the playbook,” said former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.

Fleischer said that, for Trump, the lines between campaigning and the courtroom have now been erased.

“Every day is a day on the stump, whether it’s in Iowa, New Hampshire or in the courtroom,” he said, adding, “Every appearance is an opportunity to ring a bell, strike a message, say he’s the victim of a weaponized Justice Department and he’s the only one who can change Washington.”

The civil fraud case, brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, accuses Trump and his company of deceiving banks, insurers and others by chronically overstating his wealth by as much as $3.6 billion.

Judge Arthur Engoron has already ruled that Trump committed fraud. If upheld on appeal, the case could cost the former president control of some of his most prized properties, including Trump Tower, a Wall Street office building and golf courses. James is also seeking $250 million in penalties and a ban on Trump doing business in New York.

Trump spent the day seated at the defense table observing the proceedings, at times leaning to confer with his lawyers.

The former president grew visibly angry during the morning’s opening statements, railing against the suggestion that he was worth less than he claimed and blasting both the judge and James. Trump sneered at the state attorney general as he walked past her on his way out of the courtroom during a lunch break, cocking his head toward her and glaring.

But by the end of the day, Trump’s mood had changed. He exited the courtroom claiming he’d scored a victory, pointing to comments that he said showed the judge coming around to the defense view that most of the suit’s allegations happened too long ago to be considered. Kevin Wallace, a lawyer in James’ office, promised to link the cited incidents to a more recent loan agreement.

Still, Trump complained that he’d “love to be campaigning instead of doing this.”

“This was for politics,” he said. “Now, it has been very successful for them because they took me off the campaign trail ‘cause I’ve been sitting in a courthouse all day long instead of being in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or a lot of other places I could be at.”

This will be the reality of his campaign going forward as he alternates between visits to early voting states and courtrooms, including to testify later in the New York civil trial. On Feb. 15, he will have to make an in-person court appearance in New York ahead of a criminal trial in which he is accused of misclassifying hush money payments made to women during his 2016 campaign. His federal trial in Washington on charges related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election is tentatively set to begin March 4, his New York trial is set to begin March 25 and his federal trial in the Mar-a-Lago documents case is set to begin on May 20.

His trial in Georgia over his efforts to subvert the results of the state’s 2020 election hasn’t yet been scheduled.

Plans for Trump to attend the New York trial’s first days were first revealed in legal filings last week. Lawyers representing Trump in a separate lawsuit against his former lawyer Michael Cohen used his appearance to put off a deposition.

Trump had also said in May that he wanted to attend an earlier civil trial brought by writer E. Jean Carroll accusing him of rape, but did not end up doing so. A jury found him liable for sexually assaulting her in a department store dressing room.

In a post on his social media site, Trump said he wanted to appear in court Monday “to fight for my name and reputation.”

“I want to watch this witch hunt myself,” he told reporters. “I’ve been going through a witch hunt for years, but this is really now getting dirty.”

Trump is expected to return to testify in the case in several weeks.


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Trump indicted for fourth time in Georgia election meddling case

Donald Trump and 18 allies were indicted in Georgia on Monday over their efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state, with prosecutors using a statute normally associated with mobsters to accuse the former president, lawyers and other aides of a “criminal enterprise” to keep him in power

The nearly 100-page indictment details dozens of acts by Trump or his allies to undo his defeat, including beseeching Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to find enough votes for him to win the battleground state; harassing a state election worker who faced false claims of fraud; and attempting to persuade Georgia lawmakers to ignore the will of voters and appoint a new slate of electoral college electors favourable to Trump.


In one particularly brazen episode, it also outlines a plot involving one of his lawyers to tamper with voting machines in a rural Georgia county and steal data from a voting machine company.

“The indictment alleges that rather than abide by Georgia’s legal process for election challenges, the defendants engaged in a criminal racketeering enterprise to overturn Georgia’s presidential election result,” Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, whose office brought the case, said at a late-night news conference.

Other defendants include former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows; Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani; and a Trump administration Justice Department official, Jeffrey Clark, who advanced the then-president’s efforts to undo his election loss in Georgia. Multiple other lawyers who devised legally dubious ideas aimed at overturning the results, including John Eastman, Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro, were also charged.

Willis said the defendants would be allowed to voluntarily surrender by noon on 25 August. She also said she plans to ask for a trial date within six months and that she intends to try the defendants as a group.

The indictment bookends a remarkable crush of criminal cases – four in five months, each in a different city – that would be daunting for anyone, never mind someone like Trump who is simultaneously balancing the roles of criminal defendant and presidential candidate.

It comes just two weeks after the Justice Department special counsel charged him in a vast conspiracy to overturn the election, underscoring how prosecutors after lengthy investigations that followed the 6 January 2021 riot at the US Capitol have now, two-and-a-half years later, taken steps to hold Trump to account for an assault on the underpinnings of American democracy.

The Georgia case covers some of the same ground as Trump’s recent indictment in Washington, DC, including attempts he and his allies made to disrupt the electoral vote count at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021. But its sprawling web of defendants – 19 in total – stands apart from the more tightly targeted case brought by special counsel Jack Smith, which so far only names Trump as a defendant.

In charging close Trump aides who were referenced by Smith only as unindicted co-conspirators, the Georgia indictment alleges a scale of criminal conduct extending far beyond just the ex-president.

The charging document, in language conjuring up the seedy operations of mob bosses and gang leaders, accuses the former president of the United States, the former White House chief of staff, Trump’s attorneys and the former mayor of New York as members of a “criminal organisation” who were part of an “enterprise” that operated in Georgia and other states.

The indictment capped a chaotic day at the courthouse caused by the brief but mysterious posting on a county website of a list of criminal charges that were to be brought against the former president. Reuters, which published a copy of the document, said the filing was taken down quickly.

A Willis spokesperson said in the afternoon that it was “inaccurate” to say that an indictment had already been returned but declined to comment further on a kerfuffle that the Trump legal team rapidly jumped on to attack the integrity of the investigation.


Trump and his allies, who have characterized the investigation as politically motivated, immediately seized on the apparent error to claim that the process was rigged. Trump’s campaign aimed to fundraise off it, sending out an email with the since-deleted document embedded.

In a statement after the indictment was issued, Trump’s legal team said: “the events that have unfolded today have been shocking and absurd, starting with the leak of a presumed and premature indictment before the witnesses had testified or the grand jurors had deliberated and ending with the District Attorney being unable to offer any explanation.”

The lawyers said prosecutors presenting their case “relied on witnesses who harbour their own personal and political interests – some of whom ran campaigns touting their efforts against the accused.”

Many of the 161 acts by Trump and his associates outlined in the Georgia indictment have already received widespread attention. That includes a Jan. 2, 2021, call in which Trump urged Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” the 11,780 votes needed to overturn his election loss. That call, prosecutors said, violated a Georgia law against soliciting a public official to violate their oath.

It also charges Trump with making false statements and writings for a series of claims he made to Raffensperger and other state election officials, including that up to 300,000 ballots “were dropped mysteriously into the rolls” in the 2020 election, that more than 4,500 people voted who weren’t on registration lists and that a Fulton County election worker, Ruby Freeman, was a “professional vote scammer.”


Giuliani, meanwhile, is charged with making false statements for allegedly lying to lawmakers by claiming that more than 96,000 mail-in ballots were counted in Georgia despite there being no record of them having been returned to a county elections office, and that a voting machine in Michigan wrongly recorded 6,000 votes for Biden that were actually cast for Trump. A lawyer who has represented him declined to comment.

Also charged are individuals prosecutors say helped Trump and his allies on the ground in Georgia influence and intimidate election workers.

One man, Stephen Cliffgard Lee, was charged by prosecutors for allegedly traveling to Freeman’s home “with intent to influence her testimony.” Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss testified to Congress last year about how Trump and his allies latched onto surveillance footage from November 2020 to accuse both women of committing voter fraud – allegations that were quickly debunked, yet spread widely across conservative media.

Both women, who are Black, faced death threats for several months after the election.

The indictment also accuses Powell and several co-defendants of tampering with voting machines in Coffee County, Georgia, and stealing data belonging to Dominion Voting Systems, a producer of tabulation machines that has long been the focus of conspiracy theories.


According to evidence made public by the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot, Trump allies targeted Coffee County in search of evidence to back their theories of widespread voter fraud, allegedly copying data and software.

Besides the two election-related cases, Trump faces a separate federal indictment accusing him of illegally hoarding classified documents as well as a New York state case charging him with falsifying business records.

As indictments mount, Trump – the leading Republican candidate for president in 2024 – often invokes his distinction as the only former president to face criminal charges. He is campaigning and fundraising around these themes, portraying himself as the victim of Democratic prosecutors out to get him.

Republican allies once again quickly rallied to Trump’s defence. “Americans see through this desperate sham,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

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Arrests highlight the growing ‘criminalisation’ of LGBT+ people in Venezuela

Thirty-three people were arrested in a popular spot among the LGBT+ community in Valencia, Venezuela on July 23. After the arrest, the people’s names, photos and ID cards were shared in the media and online. Since being released, they are still awaiting legal proceedings. Venezuelan associations have denounced what they see as a growing trend of “criminalisation” of LGBT+ individuals and institutionalised homophobia in Venezuela. 

Issued on:

4 min

On July 23, police arrested 33 people at the Avalon Man Club, a private sauna and spa frequented by the LGBT+ community in Valencia, in the northern Venezuelan state of Carabobo. The operation was allegedly carried out after an anonymous tip-off.

The people were taken to the police station, where they were photographed lined up along a wall. Police photographed their belongings, including identity papers, mobile phones and condoms. These images were shared in the local media and on social networks with their identities left unredacted. Their names and ages were shared publicly as well. 

These photos of the 33 people arrested in Valencia, Venezuela, on July 23 were distributed without redaction (black bars added by the FRANCE 24 Observers team). Observers

This photo showed the mobile phones and identity documents of the people arrested in Valencia, Venezuela, on July 23, as well as condoms. Blurring added by the FRANCE 24 Observers team.
This photo showed the mobile phones and identity documents of the people arrested in Valencia, Venezuela, on July 23, as well as condoms. Blurring added by the FRANCE 24 Observers team. Observers

‘The police and local media have stigmatised and criminalised them’

Jau Ramírez is the director of SOMOS, a movement working for the rights of sexual minorities in Venezuela.

These 33 people were arrested arbitrarily, without a judicial warrant or search warrant. What’s more, the police and local media then spread personal information about them and declared that one of them had HIV, in order to stigmatise them, criminalise them, give the impression that they were a danger to society, and thus justify the violation of their rights. At first, it was even said that they were taking part in an orgy and filming pornographic scenes…

A number of journalists’ organisations have also criticised the way in which certain media outlets have handled the case, adopting all the information provided by the police.

On Twitter, the National College of Journalists (CNP) said that “reproducing information that stigmatises and denigrates the people involved” was a “violation of human rights”, and pointed out that the media should “respect the presumption of innocence and protect the identity of anyone accused of illegal acts”.

In this video broadcast on July 26, the men arrested in Valencia are transported by the police in pick-ups.

Charged with, among other things, public indecency

On July 26, the 33 people were taken to the Valencia courthouse. The court upheld three charges brought by the public prosecutor against them: public indecency – an offence punishable by several months in prison – as well as unlawful association and noise pollution. At the end of the hearing, 30 of them were released, but with the obligation to report to the authorities every 30 days.

“Justice, justice”, chanted people gathered outside the Valencia courthouse as the arrested men got off a bus on July 25, the date initially scheduled for the hearing.

“There is no crime”, shout the protesters gathered outside the Valencia courthouse on July 26 to demand the release of the 33 men.

On August 2, the three others – the owner of the establishment and two employees – were also released. They too have to report back every 30 days.

But things did not end there. The charges against them have not been dismissed, despite demands from activists. On August 1, the public prosecutor announced that the case could possibly be dismissed. 

‘The current situation sets a legal precedent’

Jau Ramírez continued: 

Between January 2021 and December 2022, we documented 11 arbitrary arrests of LGBTIQ+ people, carried out by the security forces. In four cases, they were accompanied by extortion, physical, verbal and psychological violence and acts of torture. There were also four police raids on LGBTIQ+ leisure facilities in Caracas, Maracaibo and Mérida. 

So the case of the 33 people arrested is not a first. But in previous cases, the people were released after a few hours, without being reported to the police or charged with any offence. In this case, the people have remained in detention for a long time, without any justification, and the charges against them are unclear and questionable. 

We therefore consider that the current situation set a legal precedent. We haven’t seen anything like this in Venezuela since the late 1990s. Since the beginning of this case, the police and judiciary have acted in a homophobic manner, with the aim of criminalising LGBTIQ+ people.

This escalation of repression is a threat to the fundamental rights and sexual and personal freedoms of everyone in Venezuela.

Rally on July 28 in Caracas to ” demand an end to the criminalisation of people from the #LGBTIQ+ community in Venezuela”.

Closer links between the authorities and evangelicals

For Jau Ramírez, this repression goes hand in hand with “the interference of ultra-religious groups and their dogmatism in state institutions”. He cites a few examples:

In 2019, President Nicolás Maduro created the National Day of the Evangelical Pastor. In 2022, his son was appointed vice president of religious affairs within the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, a new position. In 2023, Nicolás Maduro also created the “My well-equipped church” programme [Editor’s note: equipping evangelical groups with seats, fans, microphones, etc.].

Nicolás Maduro has recently forged closer ties to certain evangelical sectors, which have been very active in opposing the rights of the LGBT+ community. In July, the government decided that religious groups would be consulted on any legislative initiative involving the family. This rapprochement is part of a “political strategy” with a view to 2024 and the presidential election, according to the Spanish daily El País. 

Venezuela’s LGBT+ community has been fighting for years against discrimination and for access to equal rights, including marriage for all. In March 2023, the courts overturned a provision that provided for a prison sentence of between one and three years for military personnel accused of “unnatural sexual acts”. 

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Macron walks tightrope as French police protest challenges rule of law

French President Emmanuel Macron has declined to condemn the country’s top police chiefs for appearing to suggest officers were above the law, seeking to stave off unrest among security forces wearied by repeated bouts of street violence. Critics, however, lament a missed opportunity to reassert the state’s authority over an increasingly restless police force.

Just weeks after the police killing of 17-year-old Nahel M. kicked off massive riots across France, the country’s top police official sparked a fresh row on Sunday by slamming the decision to jail an officer whose actions during the unrest are being investigated. 

The controversial remarks by national police chief Frédéric Veaux were aimed at staving off a revolt in the southern city of Marseille, where officers have staged a rare walkout in protest at a court decision to remand one of their colleagues in custody. 

Police clash with protesters in the streets of Nanterre, near Paris, on June 30, 2023, following the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Nahel M. © Gonzalo Fuentes, Reuters

The jailed policeman is one of four officers placed under investigation over the alleged beating of a 21-year-old man of North African origin, who has undergone multiple surgical procedures and had part of his skull removed after what he said was a deliberate attack by police using an LBD blast-ball gun. 

“Knowing that (the officer) is in prison stops me from sleeping,” Veaux said in an interview with French daily Le Parisien, after travelling to Marseille to bring a message of support to police from Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin

“In general, I believe that ahead of a possible trial, a police officer should not be in prison, even if he may have committed serious faults or errors in the course of his work,” Veaux added in remarks backed by Paris police chief Laurent Nunez, France’s second-highest-ranking officer. 

The comments promptly raised eyebrows among members of the judiciary, who denounced an attack on their independence and the principle of equality before the law. 

Cécile Mamelin, the vice president of the Union of Magistrates, described Veaux’s words as “scandalous” and “extremely serious in a state of law”, while Marseille’s top judge Olivier Leurent issued a statement urging “restraint so that the judiciary can pursue the investigation (…) free from pressure and in complete impartiality”. 

Macron on the police in France

Meanwhile, the left-wing opposition blasted the government for failing to rein in “a police hierarchy that places itself above the law”.  

Macron’s balancing act 

France’s latest policing dispute caught up with Macron as he touched down in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia on Monday, some 16,000 kilometres away, for the start of an Indo-Pacific tour. 

The French president steered clear of commenting both on Veaux’s remarks and the judicial decision to remand the officer in custody. Pressed for a response, he stressed that “no one in the Republic is above the law” and that the police “obviously (…) fall under the law”. 

Above all, Macron praised police in the face of “an unprecedented surge of violence” during the riots, in which some 900 law enforcement officers were injured. He said he understood “the emotions of our officers”, adding that they “must be heard while respecting the rule of law”. 

Read moreMacron government shifts stance on police violence to quell unrest after death of teen

His choice of words reflected the government’s concern at the mounting anguish voiced by police after a gruelling year marked by rioting and sometimes violent protests, said Jean-Marc Berlière, a historian of the French police. 

“There is widespread discontent and a sense of injustice among police officers who feel that they are sacrificing their lives and well-being to maintain public order – while being finger-pointed and reprimanded in return,” Berlière said. 

He cited the increasingly vocal criticism of police’s heavy-handed tactics, both at home and from abroad, which has seen rights groups, the Council of Europe and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association each voice their concern at French police’s “excessive use of force” in tackling protests against Macron’s deeply unpopular pension reform, which the government rammed through parliament in March without a vote. 

While police cannot go on strike, Berlière added, “the government is also well aware of the risk of further roiling a police force that is still perfectly capable of paralysing law enforcement.” 

Over the past week, several hundred police officers in Marseille have gone on sick leave in protest over their colleague’s detention, according to unnamed union sources. Others have put themselves under so-called “code 562”, which means that they only respond to emergency and essential missions. 

While the exact numbers are not known, they are sufficiently high to alarm the authorities in Paris, said Berlière.

“In recent months, the government has already seen its legitimacy challenged by street protesters and parts of the opposition,” he said. “It cannot afford a challenge from the police, too.”   

Seeking to stave off further unrest in the ranks, France’s interior minister on Thursday said he understood the frustration and anger voiced by overworked security forces after repeated bouts of street violence.

“I want to say that I can understand this fatigue, sadness and emotion,” Darmanin said before heading into a meeting with police union representatives. He also urged police not to let down the population and serve the public interest.

A crisis of authority 

Critics of Macron’s cautious response have argued that it trivialises what amounts to a serious challenge to the rule of law. 

In an editorial on Wednesday, French daily Le Monde described the president’s stance as an “admission of weakness” in the face of a police force that “is becoming increasingly difficult to control”. 

A noted police expert, Sebastian Roché, tweeted his concern about what is at stake, warning that the police chiefs’ comments undermined the “cardinal principle” of equality before the law. 

In an interview with investigative weekly Mediapart, Roché said Macron’s words left the impression that “he doesn’t really know, or at best doesn’t appreciate, the extent of this unprecedented transgression under the Fifth Republic”. 

The president’s refusal to comment on Veaux’s remarks “reflects his political weakness and fragility”, he added. “It’s as if he were saying ‘I’m not in charge’.” 

Speaking to FRANCE 24 at the height of the pension unrest earlier this year, Roché described the police crackdown on protests as a consequence of both a French policing tradition and the government’s fragility. 

Heavy-handed policing stems from the “crisis of authority” undermining Macron’s minority and deeply unpopular government, Roché explained. “When a government chooses force it is always because its authority is weakened,” he added. 

Read moreUse of force signals ‘crisis of authority’ as France’s pension battle turns to unrest

Echoing such views, political analyst Emmanuel Blanchard argued in an interview with left-leaning daily Libération that the government’s reliance on law enforcement to quell social unrest “has weakened its position in relation to the police”. 

“It’s a cyclical trend: the less popular legitimacy the government enjoys, the more it relies on the forces of law and order, which it needs to suppress social movements,” Blanchard explained. “So it gives them (the police) guarantees. This leads to forms of empowerment, which can lead to protests like the one we are currently seeing.” 

A history of unrest   

France has a long history of police protests and unrest – one governments are well aware of. 

“Contrary to what is commonly assumed, the police are not always a passive and obedient instrument in the hands of the executive power,” Berlière noted. “One doesn’t have to be a historian to have some idea of the perils for a government of alienating law enforcement.” 

In 1958, widespread police unrest helped precipitate the fall of the troubled Fourth Republic, a parliamentarian regime that was replaced by the current presidential system instituted by World War II hero Charles de Gaulle

Decades later, in March 1983, some 2,000 officers marched on the justice ministry in Paris calling for the removal of Robert Badinter, the justice minister who helped abolish the death penalty and whom they deemed soft on crime. That move backfired, however, as then-president François Mitterrand swiftly moved to dismiss France’s top police chiefs and punish union leaders. 

“If certain police officers, an active minority, have failed in their duty, the duty of those in charge of the Republic is to strike and ensure that the authority of the state is respected,” Mitterrand said in televised remarks that have resurfaced on social media in recent days, posted by critics of Macron’s more cautious approach. 

Such comparisons have little pertinence, Berlière argued, pointing to widely differing contexts. 

“Back in 1983 there were no riots and no street protests to be wary of,” he said. “And while the revolt against Badinter was led by a fringe, far-right union, Macron and his government are aware that hardline unions are more powerful today and that the officers’ protest in Marseille is broadly supported.” 

One thing that hasn’t changed is the longstanding animosity between the police and the judiciary, which has underpinned this and other disputes. 

In May 2021, police unions vented their anger at the justice system during a rally outside the National Assembly in Paris, attended by politicians of all stripes. Union leaders could be heard stating that “the police’s problem is the judiciary” and calling for “constitutional constraints” to be “breached”. 

Police protesters rally outside the National Assembly in Paris on May 19, 2021, venting their anger at a judiciary they deem too lax.
Police protesters rally outside the National Assembly in Paris on May 19, 2021, venting their anger at a judiciary they deem too lax. © Thomas Coex, AFP

Police unions routinely accuse the judges of being too lenient with criminals and too harsh with officers. Magistrates’ unions, meanwhile, accuse police authorities of “hijacking” the judiciary to repress protest movements, notably through the use of arbitrary or “preventive” arrests that seldom lead to prosecution. 

The comments by Veaux and Nunez, France’s most senior police officials, take the dispute to a new level, reflecting the police hierarchy’s concern to appear in step with an increasingly disgruntled – and radicalised – base. 

“Many in the police perceive the decision to jail their colleague in Marseille as a case of judges abusing their powers and seeking to settle scores,” said Berlière, noting that officers are seldom remanded in custody pending a trial. 

“As for magistrates, they see the police action as a form of interference with the judiciary and of disregard for the separation of powers,” he added. 

‘Worrying silence’ 

In its editorial on Wednesday, Le Monde said Veaux’s remarks threatened to open “a new chapter in the war between police and the judiciary”, while also “calling into question the principles of the rule of law, namely the independence of the judiciary, the separation of powers and equality before the law”. 

In such a context, the newspaper expressed concern at the government’s “worrying silence”. 

Éric Dupond-Moretti, the justice minister, waited until Macron’s comments before tweeting that the independence of judicial officials is “an indispensable condition for respect of the rule of law”. 

His colleague at the interior ministry, who is Veaux’s direct boss, waited a full week before breaking his silence on the matter. In his comments on Thursday, Darmanin expressed support for the police chief, whose remarks in Le Parisien had been approved by the minister’s cabinet.

“Police officers cannot be the only people in France for whom presumption of innocence (…) is replaced by a presumption of guilt,” the minister told reporters outside a police station in Paris, in remarks that a representative body of French magistrates promptly described as an “alarming” attack on the judiciary’s “impartiality”.

Darmanin later told police unions he would examine their demands for greater protection for officers, including those facing legal investigations. He also pledged to visit Marseille in the coming days to express support for police in the southern city plagued by gang violence.

Overall, Macron and his ministers appear more concerned to “calm things down” than to reassert the state’s authority over the police, Le Monde wrote, pointing to a delicate balancing act as France prepares to host a series of major sporting events. 

With the country set to host the Rugby World Cup from September and the Olympic Games next year, Macron “certainly cannot afford the luxury of an open crisis with those who maintain public order”, the paper noted. 

But the president’s decision to shirk a fight will do little to appease the wider nation and address the root causes of urban riots in France, Le Monde cautioned, noting that the worst cases of rioting this century have been triggered by police blunders and that the country “is suffering from a very poor relationship between the police and a section of the population”. 

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Israel takes first major step in judicial reform, deepening divisions

Israel’s parliament on Monday approved the first major law in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s contentious plan to overhaul the country’s justice system, triggering a new burst of mass protests and drawing accusations that he was pushing the country toward authoritarian rule.

The vote, passed unanimously by Netanyahu’s governing coalition after the opposition stormed out of the hall, deepened the fissures that have tested the delicate social ties that bind the country, rattled the cohesion of its powerful military and repeatedly drew concern from Israel’s closest ally, the United States.

It came just hours after Netanyahu was released from the hospital, where he had a pacemaker implanted, adding another dizzying twist to an already dramatic series of events.

As Netanyahu’s allies celebrated their victory and vowed to press ahead with more changes, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and opponents said they would challenge the new law in the Supreme Court.

“It’s a sad day,” opposition leader Yair Lapid said after the vote. “This is not a victory for the coalition. This is the destruction of Israeli democracy.”

The overhaul calls for sweeping changes aimed at curbing the powers of the judiciary, from limiting the Supreme Court’s ability to challenge parliamentary decisions to change the way judges are selected.

Netanyahu and his allies say the changes strengthen democracy by limiting the authority of unelected judges and giving elected officials more powers over decision-making.

But protesters see the overhaul as a power grab fueled by personal and political grievances of Netanyahu – who is on trial for corruption charges – and his partners.

His allies, who include ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious parties, have called for increased West Bank settlement construction, annexation of the occupied territory, perpetuating military draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox men, and limiting the rights of LGBTQ+ people and Palestinians.

The White House, which has repeatedly urged Netanyahu to pause his overhaul plan until he has a broad consensus, expressed regret. “It is unfortunate that the vote today took place with the slimmest possible majority,” it said.

Under the Israeli system, the prime minister governs through a majority coalition in parliament, giving him control over the executive and legislative branches of government.

As a result, the Supreme Court plays a critical oversight role. Critics say that by seeking to weaken the judiciary, Netanyahu and his allies are trying to erode the country’s checks and balances and consolidate power over the third, independent branch of government.

In a televised address Monday night, Netanyahu rejected such criticism. “Today we did a necessary democratic act, an act that is intended to return a measure of balance between the branches of government,” he said.

He vowed to seek renewed dialogue with the political opposition and called for national unity. “Let us reach agreements,” he said. “I extend my hand in a call for peace and mutual respect between us.”

As he spoke, Israel’s Channel 13 TV showed a split screen with a police water cannon spraying crowds of protesters.

In Monday’s vote, lawmakers approved a measure that prevents judges from striking down government decisions on the basis they are “unreasonable.”

The government’s critics say removing the standard of reasonability opens the door to corruption and improper appointments of unqualified cronies to important positions. The Supreme Court, for instance, this year struck down Netanyahu’s appointment of a key ally for interior and finance minister as unreasonable because of past convictions for bribery and tax cheating.

With the opposition out of the hall, the measure passed by a 64-0 margin.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the architect of the plan, said parliament had taken the “first step in an important historic process.”

“This is just the beginning,” added National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Opposition lawmakers chanted “shame” and “government of destruction” before leaving the chamber.

The chant was a reference to the upcoming Jewish day of mourning, the Ninth of Av, which marks the destruction of two ancient Temples in Jerusalem. According to Jewish tradition, the Roman Empire succeeded in destroying the Second Temple because of Jewish infighting.

The grassroots protest movement, which has regularly drawn tens of thousands of people into the streets for the past seven months, condemned Monday’s vote by Netanyahu’s “government of extremists” and vowed to press ahead.

“No one can predict the extent of damage and social upheaval that will follow the passage of the legislation,” it said.

Thousands of people, many waving blue-and-white Israeli flags, gathered outside the Knesset, or parliament, and the Supreme Court, and jammed Jerusalem’s main highway. Walls and fences were plastered with stickers reading “We won’t serve a dictator,” “Democracy or rebellion” and “Save Israel from Netanyahu.”

Police tried to clear the crowds with water cannons spraying skunk-scented water. Many protesters put plugs in their noses or held up sprigs of rosemary plucked from nearby bushes to try to control the stench.

“This puts us on the way to dictatorship,” said protester Danny Kimmel, a 55-year-old program manager. “You don’t do this to people who are protesting. It’s their right.”

Thousands of people also demonstrated in central Tel Aviv – the epicentre of months of anti-government protests. Scuffles took place between police and protesters, with at least eight people arrested and protesters lighting bonfires. Police said they arrested a driver who hit a group of protesters in central Israel, injuring three people

The overhaul has exposed deep divisions in Israeli society – much of it along religious, ethnic and class lines.

While protesters represent a cross-section of society, they come largely from the country’s secular middle class. At the same time, Netanyahu’s supporters tend to be poorer, more religious and live in West Bank settlements or outlying rural areas.

Many of his supporters are working-class Mizrahi Jews, with roots in Middle Eastern countries, and have expressed hostility toward what they say is an elitist class of Ashkenazi, or European, Jews.

Israel’s Palestinian Arab minority has largely stayed away from the protests, with many saying they do not feel like they have a stake.

The protests have largely avoided Israel’s 56-year occupation of lands the Palestinians seek for their hoped-for-independent state, fearing the issue might alienate supporters. Critics accuse the protesters of harbouring a significant blind spot.

Further ratcheting up the pressure on Netanyahu, thousands of military reservists have declared their refusal to serve under a government they see as setting the country on a path to dictatorship – prompting fears that the military’s preparedness could be compromised.

In his address, Netanyahu urged reservists to continue to serve and “leave army service out of the political debate.”

Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank, said Monday’s vote had exposed long-running weaknesses in Israel’s system of government.

“The immediate outcome will be to escalate internal divisions within Israeli society and undermine Israeli security,” he said. Increased uncertainty, he added, “will also have a negative economic impact.”

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