French island MP pelted with seaweed by anti health-pass protesters

French politicians from across the spectrum on Monday condemned an attack on a lawmaker from the North Atlantic overseas territory of Saint-Pierre-and-Miquelon by protesters against the government's Covid-19 health pass.

French island MP pelted with seaweed by anti health-pass protesters
Protesters outside the home of MP Stephane Claireaux Photo: Jean-Christophe Lespagnol/AFP

Video circulating on social media showed Stephane Claireaux, an MP from from President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party, being pelted at the weekend with seaweed and dirt by jeering protesters outside his home on the windswept territory off the Canadian island of Newfoundland.

The images are “quite horrifying. It’s a further level of violence against elected officials,” minister for relations with parliament Marc Fesneau told broadcaster Public Senat.

Sunday’s attack came a few days ahead of the introduction of France’s health pass in Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, home to fewer than 6,000 people. The measure, long in place in mainland France, requires people to present proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to enter public spaces like bars.

“We have to condemn such attacks, because in the end it’s totalitarianism if you subject local or national elected officials to physical pressure… That’s not acceptable in a democracy,” Fesneau said.

Claireaux had earlier told broadcaster France Info that he had been waiting for the demonstrators outside his home “so as to talk to them”.

“There was a car loaded with seaweed… and people started chucking it at me. It was like being stoned. My wife came out to join me on the front step. I dodged a rock that missed our faces by five centimetres,” he said.

Claireaux added that he would be filing criminal charges against those responsible.

“People are free to think that we’re not making the right decisions. We’re all getting death threats by email. At some point this has to stop,” he said.

Christophe Castaner, leader of Macron’s party in parliament, told France Inter radio there had been 322 threats against MPs in 2021 – two-thirds of them against the ruling party.

Tensions over health measures have risen in France since Macron last week said he planned to “piss off” the unvaccinated until they accepted shots.

“Some anti-vaxxers use the president’s provocative statements to justify their violence. But nothing can justify it. These acts are deeply shocking, especially outside a family’s private home,” Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure said.

Meanwhile senior conservative MP Eric Ciotti said the incident was just one among many “excesses that are taking an extraordinarily worrying and dangerous turn”, calling for “heavy punishments for those who use violence”.

But he also attacked Macron for “seeking conflict, seeking tension, seeking to divide for political reasons”.

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‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Swedish police underestimated the level of violence that awaited them and should have called a halt to Danish-Swedish extremist Rasmus Paludan’s demos as soon as it became clear the riots were spiralling out of control, argues journalist Bilan Osman. 

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Speaking to The Local for the Sweden in Focus podcast, out this Saturday, Osman said she understood why the police had allowed the demonstrations to go ahead in the first place but that the safety of civilians and police officers should have taken precedence when the counter-demonstrations turned violent. 

“Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s an easy question. I think everyone, regardless of views or beliefs, should have the right to demonstrate,” said Osman, who writes for the left-wing Dagens ETC newspaper and previously lectured for the anti-racist Expo Foundation.

“I understand people who say that violence [from counter-demonstrators] shouldn’t be a reason to stop people from demonstrating. I truly believe that. But at the same time: was it worth it this time when it’s about people’s lives and safety?” 

Police revealed on Friday that at least 104 officers were injured in counter-demonstrations that they say were hijacked by criminal gangs intent on targeting the police. 

Forty people were arrested and police are continuing to investigate the violent riots for which they admitted they were unprepared. 

“I think the police honestly misjudged the situation. I understand why Paludan was allowed to demonstrate the first day. It’s not the first time he has burned the Koran in Sweden. When he burned the Koran in Rinkeby last year nothing happened. But this time it was chaos.” 

Osman noted that Rasmus Paludan did not even show up for a planned demonstration in her home city of Linköping – but the police were targeted anyway. 

“I know people who were terrified of going home. I know people who had rocks thrown in their direction, not to mention the people who worked that day, policemen and women who feared for their lives. So for the safety of civilians and the police the manifestations should have been stopped at that point. Instead it went on, not only for a second day but also a third day and a fourth day.” 

On the question of whether it was acceptable to burn Islam’s holy book, Osman said it depended on the context. 

“If you burn the Koran mainly to criticise religion, or even Islam, of course it should be accepted in a democracy. The state should not only allow these things, but also protect people that do so. 

“I do believe that. Even as a Muslim. That’s an important part of the freedom of speech. 

A previous recipient of an award from the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism for her efforts to combat prejudice in society, Osman drew parallels with virulent anti-Semitism and said it was “terrifying” that Paludan was being treated by many as a free speech campaigner rather than a far-right extremist.  

“If you are a right-wing extremist that wants to ethnically cleanse, that wants to cleanse Muslims from Sweden, and therefore burn the Koran, it’s actually dumb to think that this is a question about freedom of speech. When Nazis burn everything Jewish it’s not a critique against Judaism, it’s anti-Semitism.” 

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Sweden tended to come in waves, Osman said, pointing to 9/11 and Anders Behring Brevik’s attacks in Norway as previous occasions when Islamophobia was rampant. Now the Easter riots had unleashed a new wave of hatred against Muslims that she described as “alarming” and the worst yet. 

“I do believe that we will find a way to coexist in our democracy. But we have to put in a lot work. And Muslims can’t do that work alone. We need allies in this.” 

Listen to more from Bilan Osman on the April 23rd episode of Sweden in Focus: Why Sweden experienced its worst riots in decades.