'Yellow Vest' Anger as French Boxer who Hit Police Denied Bail
Supporters of the French boxer filmed punching police officers during a "yellow vest" protest reacted angrily Thursday after he was denied bail at a court hearing where he expressed regret for his outburst.
Christophe Dettinger, a former light heavyweight champion caught on camera beating two riot officers, was remanded in custody by a Paris court Wednesday night until his trial on February 13.
Dettinger, known as "The Gypsy From Massy" during his days in the ring, has become a symbol of the deep divisions wrought by the "yellow vest" movement, with supporters hailing him as a hero and critics of the anti-government rebellion calling 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.
"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.
The footage of Dettinger, who stands 1.92-metres (6 foot 3 inches) tall, landing blows on two officers Saturday caused widespread outrage, 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.
On Wednesday, the ex-boxer 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.
He said he "lost control" only later after seeing police "beat a young man and a woman on the ground with batons".
But the court denied him bail, saying he was flight risk for having fled the bridge across the Seine river leading to the National Assembly after taking on the police.
The decision was met with howls of protest among the "yellow vests" and their supporters.
Well-known French video prankster Remi Gaillard was among those to accuse the state of double standards, pointing to images of a police captain hitting protesters in the southern city of Toulon at the weekend, and a Macron aide roughing up demonstrators at a May Day protest last year as proof of state brutality.
"Hello Emmanuel Macron, the boxer in pre-trial detention, very well. And your aide who disguised himself as a cop to beat people? And the policeman who beats up demonstrators? And the former minister (Luc Ferry) who calls on the police to open fire on the yellow vests?", Gaillard wrote in a tweet, which received 4,000 shares.
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.
But rival video shared by another user appeared to show Dettinger waiting for his moment to strike.
- '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.
But counsel for the two injured police officers accused him of acting in a "methodical" manner.
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 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.
- Tensions high -
The yellow vest movement, originally started against fuel tax hikes, 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 vandalized, and nearly 60 percent of the 3,200 speed radars along French highways have been destroyed or damaged since the movement began, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said Thursday.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has announced plans for legislation banning known "troublemakers" from attending demonstrations.
Macron in December sought to tamp down the rebellion with a 10-billion-euro package of measures for low earners.
But the protesters, recognizable 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.
Many are demanding that Macron resign.