Europe

'Yellow vest' anger as French boxer who attacked police denied bail

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Supporters of a French boxer filmed punching police officers during a "yellow vest" protest reacted angrily Thursday after he was denied bail, as a fund for the injured officers topped one million euros.

Christophe Dettinger, a former light heavyweight champion caught on camera beating two riot officers, was remanded in custody by a Paris court on Wednesday until his trial on February 13.

Known as "The Gypsy From Massy" during his days in the ring, Dettinger has become a symbol of the deep divisions wrought by the "yellow vest" movement, with some protesters hailing him as a hero and critics of the rebellion labelling his actions outrageous.

In court, the 37-year-old with a shaved head who works for local government in Essonne, south of Paris, cut a contrite figure.

Yellow vest protests
A video shows a man in a boxing stance fighting with riot police during a demonstration.
Getty Images

"I regret my actions... When I see these images I'm not proud of myself," said the father of three, who has no prior convictions.

Video footage showed Dettinger landing blows on two officers Saturday, and then kicking one on the ground, causing widespread outrage and triggering a hunt for the black-clad fighter.

Dettinger turned himself in to police on Monday. A fund set up to help him meet his legal costs raised over 117,000 euros ($135,000) before being closed on Tuesday after causing a furore.

Subsidising violence

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner on Wednesday accused Dettinger's supporters of having "taken leave of their senses", saying they were "subsidising violence".

A rival fund for injured officers set up by a politician from the conservative Republicans party breached the one-million-euro mark on Thursday.

Dettinger told the court he had "come in peace" on Saturday with his family for the eighth series of nationwide protests over President Emmanuel Macron's policies in as many weeks.

But the court denied him bail, saying he was flight risk for having fled the scene -- a pedestrian bridge over the Seine river leading to the National Assembly -- after battling police.

The decision was met with howls of protest among the "yellow vests" and their supporters.

A "yellow vest" collective posted a video on Twitter showing a demonstrator on the ground during Dettinger's rampage in support of his claim that he acted in a woman's defence.

'Doesn't want to be a hero'

Dettinger's lawyers portrayed him as a respectable family man who briefly snapped.

"He doesn't want to be a hero, a symbol or a spokesman for the yellow vests," his lawyer Laurence Leger told reporters before the hearing.

Saturday's clashes in Paris, during which demonstrators rammed open the door to a government ministry with a forklift, marked a fresh escalation in the nearly two-month standoff between Macron's government and protesters from the provinces.

Many demonstrators claim they are simply responding to excessive police force and justify the violence as necessary to make the government heed their demands.

Over three-quarters of voters surveyed in an Elabe poll published Wednesday condemned the violence.

Support for the "yellow vests" had fallen 10 percentage points in a month to 31 percent, with a further 29 percent expressing some "sympathy" for their cause.

The yellow vest movement originally started against fuel tax hikes but has snowballed into a wider revolt against a president and government accused of being out-of-touch with ordinary people.

Scores of cars have been burned and shops vandalised, and nearly 60 percent of the 3,200 speed radars along French highways have been destroyed or damaged since the movement began, Castaner said Thursday.

Macron in December sought to tamp down the rebellion with a 10-billion-euro package of measures for low earners.

But the protesters, recognisable by their trademark high-visibility vests, say the measures do not go far enough to reduce inequality and give ordinary citizens more of a say in the running of the country.

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