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France puts 24 climate activists under house arrest ahead of UN talks

PARIS – French authorities have placed 24 activists under house arrest ahead of major U.N. climate warming talks starting near Paris next week, using the state of emergency powers declared after the Paris attacks.

The Interior Ministry said Friday the measures had been taken to prevent the activists from demonstrating ahead of the COP21 conference, but their lawyers and Amnesty International accused the government of abusing the state of emergency.

Three of those concerned, who are in their late 20s, are suspected of belonging to the “radical opposition movement,” according to information obtained by AFP.

They are banned from leaving their hometown in western France without special police permission, they must report to a local police station three times a day and remain at their homes between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. until Dec. 12, the day after the talks are due to end.

The Interior Ministry says the three individuals have caused “serious disturbances to public order” in the past.

The activists’ lawyer, Marie Dose, said the state of emergency was being “misused” in their cases.

“This is an attack on the right to demonstrate,” she said.

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Police officers stand beside riot vehicles during a raid in Le Pre Saint-Gervais, northeast of Paris, on Nov. 27, 2015.

Laurent Emmanuel/AFP

In the wake of the bloody jihadist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people on Nov. 13, the government banned all public demonstrations linked to COP21.

Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said the residency measures were “based on well-documented records” and those subject to them could appeal through the courts. But he denied that the state was overstepping its limits.

“The state of emergency does not negate the rule of law,” he told AFP.

Stephan Oberreit, head of Amnesty International France, said the measures taken by the government were “disproportionate.”

“The systematic banning of all meetings linked to COP21 deprives critical voices of an essential outlet to express themselves,” he said in a statement.

France’s Human Rights League (LDH) on Thursday condemned the decision to place Joel Domenjoud, a member of the legal team for the coalition of protest groups, under house arrest.

U.S. President Barack Obama and China’s Xi Jinping are among more than 140 world leaders due to attend the talks, held in a heavily secured purpose-built conference centre complex at Le Bourget outside the French capital.

Negotiators will try to forge a deal to cap average global warming at 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

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