General Christian Piquemal, a respected former French Legion commander, is among the dozens arrested during Europe-wide protests against the ongoing migrant influx.
The arrest at the PEGIDA rally in Calais on Saturday was one of 20, and came as clashes erupted between the ‘anti-Islamization’ group and the police in the French port city. The troubles kicked off after the authorities canceled the planned rally.
The crowd booed the police, as they tried to get Piquemal and drag him away.
The former commander led the Legion from 1994 to 1999.
A crowd of 150 protesters gathered downtown with banners and slogans, among them: “This is our home.” They waved the French flag and sang the national anthem, only several days after the government had banned protests.
Piquemal, 75, tried to rally the group in support of PEGIDA’s right-wing cause.
He spoke to the crowd and was quoted by Le Monde as saying: “There are things that have to be respected, including the national anthem – the Marseillaise – when it is sung.”
He slammed the police for not respecting the song and lamented how “France is in decline. I regret that you received these orders. You are forced to obey your orders, but you don’t have to behave this way in the field.”
Far-right French politicians were also in attendance in support of Piequemal.
Piquemal was charged with “participation in an unlawful assembly which did not dissolve after warning.” Four people in his entourage were also charged with possession of weapons, including a knuckle-duster and a Taser gun.
All five will face up to a year in prison, and are due to appear in court on Monday.
“Some groups began to circulate in the city center, mainly far-right, neo-Nazi types,” Etienne Desplanques, a regional official, told AFP.
Although the police issued warnings to disperse, the crowd refused. This resulted in the use of tear gas and other riot gear. Several scuffles took place as arrests were made.
“We have had a series of arrests, in all about 20,” Desplanques said, adding that the number could be higher.
Despite tactics by authorities aimed at eradicating the makeshift and slum-like camps, some 3,700 migrants continue to live in the northern port city, in a camp just on the outskirts known colloquially as “the Jungle.”
In the southern city of Montpellier, 200 people showed up to protest the migrant situation.
Across Europe, tens of thousands of people marched in 14 countries, which involved violent clashes.
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