French Divided Over State Of Emergency Law In Wake Of Paris Attacks



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France is under a state of emergency until late February, but people are already wondering if it will be extended again. A debate is growing over whether protecting the population means that democratic freedoms must be sacrificed.

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The United Nations Climate Conference is taking place in a country that's under a state of emergency. It limits where and when people can gather, including protesters. The state of emergency is set to expire in less than three months. NPR's Peter Kenyon found Parisians who are divided over whether it should expire.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Rocked by coordinated attacks that killed 130 unarmed civilians, France quickly authorized sweeping police powers and began rounding up suspects. And comments today from Prime Minister Manuel Valls suggest that the government may ask Parliament to keep those powers in place longer than three months.


MANUEL VALLS: (Speaking French).

KENYON: "We can't rule out that possibility. A lot will depend on the threat we face," said the prime minister. Hardly a definitive call for an extension, but enough to prompt Parisians to ask themselves when will we know the emergency is over? Near the Gare du Nord train station, 43-year-old security guard Fofana Kalilou says of course a 90-day state of emergency is justified.

FOFANA KALILOU: (Through interpreter) For me, three months is not a problem. For me, the state of emergency should've started a long time ago.

KENYON: This is still Paris, however, a place where liberties won't be surrendered easily. In a nearby restaurant, 26-year-old Remi Ramadour says the emergency powers don't affect him, but he's worried about others.

REMI RAMADOUR: I am white. I am not Muslim. I am not a militant - an ecological militant. So just for now I don't see a very big difference in my everyday life. But I think a lot of people are affected, not in a good way. This is not a good answer, I think, to the situation.

KENYON: In an office near the American embassy, criminal attorney Emmanuel Daoud worries that the terror threat is pushing France down a path from which it will be very difficult to return.

EMMANUEL DAOUD: (Through interpreter) I don't know what the objectives of the terrorists were, but in my view, we fell into a trap. We lowered our democratic standards. We're limiting our fundamental rights and there's no certainty as to how long this will last. And the Islamic State is still standing.

KENYON: In a cafe near the Place de la Bastille, another lawyer, Jean-Baptiste Suffrot, says many Parisians are in an uncertain middle ground - accepting the need for security for now at least. What would trouble him is an effort to keep extending the emergency. He'd like to see it finished in less than three months.

JEAN-BAPTISTE SUFFROT: Because of course the government can stop the state of emergency at any time. They just have to decide it's over. So a real test of success would be if they are able to end that before the three months' time.

KENYON: At the Place de la Republique, 34-year-old Ahmed Meguini stands before the statue of Marianne. The symbol of the Republic is surrounded by tributes to the Paris attack victims. And Meguini says he's still seething with anger over the attacks. When asked about losing democratic freedoms, he pulls out his French passport emblazoned with the motto liberte, eglite, fraternite.

AHMED MEGUINI: (Through interpreter) Democracy is a means, not an end in itself. When they attack us, these measures are needed to protect us. Remember, this is a country where we killed the king. We don't exalt God. We defend our Republic.

KENYON: Defense first, democracy later - it's not something many other Parisians would like to contemplate. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.