Maurice Papon - Prefect of Police of Paris (1958–1967)

Prefect of Police of Paris (1958–1967)

In March 1958, Papon was named Prefect of Police for Paris by Félix Gaillard (Radical)'s government. He thus had an important role in the May 1958 crisis which brought de Gaulle to power and lead to the founding of the Fifth Republic. He took part in the Gaullist confidential meetings which assured the instrumentalization of the crisis, preparing de Gaulle's nomination as President of the Council, which granted him extraordinary powers. On July 3, 1958, he managed to get what, according to Le Monde, he could "never have dreamed of": a "Carte d'Ancien Combattant de la Resistance". On July 12, 1961, president Charles de Gaulle bestowed on him the French Legion of Honour for service to the state.

Papon oversaw the repression during the Paris massacre of 1961: on October 17, 1961, a peaceful march organized by the Algerian National Liberation Front contravened a curfew imposed by Papon. 11,000 persons were arrested by the police, simply because of their appearance. They were mostly people from the Maghreb, but also included Spanish, Portuguese and Italians. These detainees were sent, in a tragic echo of the Vichy regime, on public buses to the Parc des Expositions, the Winter Velodrome, and other such centers which had been used under Vichy as internment centers. A massacre occurred in the courtyards of the Prefecture of Police, while the detainees were held without specific charges. In the following days at the Parc des Expositions, detainees were subject to inhumane treatments. Arrests continued during all the month of October 1961. Meanwhile bodies were found floating in the Seine River.

Up to 200 people were killed during these events, according to leading historian Jean-Luc Einaudi. Because some archives have been destroyed and others remain classified, the exact number of the dead remains unknown. At the time, the French government, headed by Charles de Gaulle with Roger Frey as Interior Minister, only admitted 2 dead. A government inquiry in 1999 concluded 48 drownings on the one night and 142 similar deaths of Algerians in the weeks before and after, 110 of whom were found in the Seine; it also concluded the true toll was almost certainly higher. According to Le Monde, Papon "organized the silence". It wasn't until the 1990s until historians began to speak out. The French government reluctantly recognized 48 deaths, although the Paris Archives consulted by historian David Assouline register 70 persons dead. Papon never acknowledged any responsibility for this massacre.

Papon was also in charge during the February 8, 1962 demonstration against the OAS pro-"French Algeria" terrorist group. Organized by the French Communist Party (PCF), it had been prohibited by the state. Nine members of the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) trade union, most of them communists, were killed at Charonne métro station by the police forces, directed by the same Maurice Papon under the same government, with Roger Frey as Minister of Interior, Michel Debré as Prime minister and Charles de Gaulle as president, who did all they could to "dissimulate the scale of the October 17 crime" (Jean-Luc Einaudi ). The funerals on February 13, 1962 of the nine persons killed (among them, Fanny Dewerpe) were attended by hundreds of thousands of people. On 8 February 2007 the Place du 8 Février 1962, a square nearby the metro station was dedicated by Bertrand Delanoë, the mayor of Paris, after sprays of flowers were deposited at the foot of a commemorative plaque installed inside the metro station where the killings occurred.

Papon was forced to leave his functions after the kidnapping, in Paris, of Mehdi Ben Barka, Moroccan dissident and leader of the Tricontinental Conference, in October 1965. Two French police agents, as well as French secret agents, participated in this "disappearance" orchestrated at the minimum by Moroccan Interior Minister Mohamed Oufkir, which remains to this day a mysterious case involving various international intelligence agencies (Ben Barka was preparing a meeting the next year in Havana aiming to gather all anti-colonialist parties from all continents). De Gaulle was forced to ask Papon to resign at the start of 1967; he was succeeded by Maurice Grimaud as prefect of police.

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