An attempted murder probe is underway after a police car was set alight with officers still inside at a rally in Paris. The demonstration was organized to decry "anti-cop hatred" in France.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said four people were arrested following the violent attack on the police vehicle in central Paris on Wednesday.
Police were holding a rare demonstration to denounce violence against the police, when a group of counterdemonstrators smashed and torched a police car.
An explosive situation
Officers described how protesters hurled an explosive device into the vehicle, forcing the two officers inside to flee before the car went up in flames.
Paris police chief Michel Cadot said the officers "were in the car when the explosive device was thrown inside." His account was confirmed by a surveillance video seen by Agence France-Presse.
A placard was later left in front of the burned-out car that said "free roast chickens," an AFP journalist said.
Cadot described the incident as "particularly shocking" and said it "marked an escalation in the gratuitous and brutal violence" against the security forces.
Prosecutors have opened an investigation for attempted murder and further arrests are expected. Police and judicial sources said at least three of those arrested were men aged between 19 and 21.
Public trust dented
Public support for the police soared after last year's Paris attacks. But their reputation has been sullied by a video scandal, in which footage showed two officers holding up a 15-year-old boy while another punched him. The footage has been shared widely on social media.
Around 30 investigations have been opened into alleged police brutality during recent anti-government protests. Left-wing politicians as well as unions have strongly criticized the government for its handling of the rallies.
But senior police officers claim their reputation has been "smeared" and officers had become "scapegoats for social anger".
French President Francois Hollande sent a "clear message of support to all police forces during a difficult time", his spokesman said, adding: "A balance must be perfectly preserved between maintaining order and respecting our rights."
Prime Minister Manuel Valls tweeted that to attack the police "is to attack all of us."
mm, jbh/kl (AFP, Reuters)