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Yellow Vests protesters and opposition politicians have slammed French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner for describing an incident at a Paris hospital as an “attack.” Social media footage tells a different story.
After thousands of protesters took to the streets of Paris to mark International Workers’ Day on Wednesday, Castaner took to Twitter to condemn what he said was an attack on the city’s Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital.
The protesters, he said “assaulted nursing staff,” and “wounded a policeman mobilized to protect it.”
Health Minister Agnes Buzyn described the alleged break-in as “unspeakable,” while Prime Minister Edouard Philippe condemned it as “totally irresponsible.”
A damning indictment of France’s often unruly Yellow Vests for sure. However, social media footage that surfaced in the aftermath paints a different picture.
Footage shot from inside the hospital appears to show crowds of demonstrators chased toward the building by charging riot police.
Fleeing tear gas and batons, the protesters apparently tried to enter the hospital to seek refuge.
A nurse in the hospital, which houses surgical patients in intensive care, told BFMTV that staff inside “did not feel especially attacked. There were even some people trying to calm things down. They understood that we couldn’t let them inside the hospital.”
Left-wing opposition leader Jean-Luc Melenchon savaged Castaner’s accusation, accusing the minister of fabricating a “pseudo attack” to turn public opinion against the Yellow Vests.
“If it was a deliberate lie intended solely to delegitimize and tarnish a social movement, then the interior minister should be fired without delay,” socialist politician Benoit Hamon chimed in.
After a barrage of criticism, Castaner attempted to walk back his words on Friday. “I shouldn’t have used the word ‘attack,’” he told a press conference. “The term ‘violent intrusion’ used by the hospital director seems to be more accurate giving the videos on it shared ever since.”
Elsewhere in Paris on Wednesday, Yellow Vests protesters, labor unions, pensioners and students marched to celebrate International Workers’ Day, a date marked by marches to campaign for improved working conditions and other social issues.
Although many Yellow Vests demonstrators marched on Wednesday, the May 1 protests took place separately to the Yellow Vests events which have been held weekly since November, when the movement began as a reaction to a planned fuel tax hike.
Last weekend saw the 24th straight weekend of anti-government demonstrations in France’s major cities, and came days after French President Emmanuel Macron attempted to placate the movement with promises of lower taxes. Macron’s olive branch was not well received, however, with protesters telling AFP that the president’s offering was “rubbish.”