During French President Emmanuel Macron’s tenure, he has been accused of taking a heavy-handed approach to protests and actively deploying police forces to crush dissent, most notably during the Yellow Vest movement. Now, his government has begun receiving a new military-style armored vehicle, which is expected to be highly effective at suppressing the type of domestic protest movements that have confronted his government over the years.
The new 14.5-ton vehicle, Centaure, which is produced by domestic arms manufacture Soframe, was selected by the French interior ministry to replace existing crowd control equipment, news portal Quartier Général reports. Centaure, a variation of the infantry fighting ARIVE vehicles also produced by Soframe, is equipped with an automatic, remote-controlled 30-shot grenade launcher with a range of 400 meters, in addition to a night vision camera integrated into the front of the chassis. Although the grenade rounds used in crowd control are non-lethal, the vehicle is expected to have a wide variety of ammunition to choose from, ranging from tear gas to flash bangs.
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The Centaure armored infantry vehicles will gradually replace the existing armored vehicles of the gendarmerie (VBRGs) used since the 1970s in France and its overseas territories. Since Emmanuel Macron came to power, the VRBG has been used for the evacuation of the ZAD of Notre-Dame-des-Landes in 2018, and also against the Yellow Vests movement starting at the end of 2018.
Human rights organizations and activists were especially critical of the VBRG’s use during the Yellow Vest movement. The presence of the military-style vehicles was seen as a draconian escalation and intimidation tactic against protesters unsuitable for a democratic nation, especially given scenes of police brutality that were routinely filmed as the protests dragged on for months.
Despite numerous recorded instances where police were accused of using excessive force, Macron faced little criticism from his allies in the left-liberal establishment in Brussels at the time.
French police brutality caught on camera as several cops attack a single Yellow Vest protester in Paris pic.twitter.com/0t0X06yI2z— DAILY SABAH (@DailySabah) December 2, 2018
More recently, the government mobilized its VBRG armored vehicles last November in the face of revolts in Guadeloupe and Martinique against the Covid-19 “sanitary pass,” although the protests were primarily about poor living conditions. Recently, the vehicles were used to repress the “Freedom convoy” on Feb. 12, 2022, in Paris.
The government first placed the order for the new Centaure vehicles during the Yellow Vest protests, but they are only now arriving. The new vehicles are expected to be even more effective than the previous VBRGs. Beyond its size and imposing weight, the vehicle has a long-range CCTV camera on the roof as well as a tear gas defense system on each side of the vehicle, which can produce a very high concentration of tear gas.
The size of the Centaure contract is said to be €57.4 million, putting the price of one vehicle at €637,000 before tax. The sizeable investment in upgrading its fleet of armored vehicles may be in response to a number of potential threats the Macron administration expects in the coming years. Notably, numerous intellectuals, politicians, the country’s former intelligence chief, and 20 former generals have warned of an impending civil war due to the issue of mass migration and growing social tensions.
At the same time, rising inflation, crime, and opposition to Covid-19 restrictions also represent potential threats to Macron’s grip on power. According to the Quartier Général outlet, the French state built up an arsenal of surveillance and crowd control methods during the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to the new armored vehicles, the government also ordered 170,000 LBD low-lethality ammunition rounds, including 10,000 with tracers, in the spring of 2021.
The Quartier Général also notes the threat Macron’s administration poses with its new arsenal of crowd control weapons.
“Emmanuel Macron’s first five-year term was marked by the implementation of a violent doctrine of maintaining order. In total, the repression of the Yellow Vests movement, demonstrations against the repression of the Yellow Vests movement, the demonstrations against the pension reform, or against the Global Security Act, which have caused several hundred serious injuries — in particular 32 blinded and 6 hands torn off as well as more than 27,800 injured according to the investigation report of the Observatoire des Street-Médics.”
The new Centaure vehicle was exhibited June 13-17 on the French interior ministry’s stand at the Eurosatory arms fair held at the Paris-Nord Villepinte Exhibition Centre.