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France pledges millions to stop deadly domestic violence

PARIS – Under unprecedented public pressure, France’s government pledged Monday to seize firearms from abusive spouses and better train police as part of a broad national plan to reduce the number of women killed by their partners.

Such killings happen around the world, every day, so common that they go largely ignored — at least until now, French activists hope. France has among the highest domestic violence rates in Europe, which President Emmanuel Macron has described as “France’s shame.”

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe unveiled several dozen measures Monday to tackle the problem, including electronic bracelets for abusers and 1,000 new places in shelters for battered women.

Monday’s announcement marked the end of a two-month government project to correct what Philippe called “dysfunctions” in France’s response to domestic violence.

“The first success of this effort is to break this chain of silence,” Philippe said Monday.

At least 138 women have been killed by current or former partners this year in France, according to activists who track the deaths. Many had reported abuse to police.

The government will allocate 360 million euros ($396 million) next year toward implementing the new measures, which Philippe said he hopes will serve as “an electroshock in our society.”

Violence against women remains prevalent across the globe, and Monday’s announcement was timed to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. A nongovernmental organization in Germany lit up buildings across the country in orange to mark the occasion, and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged to reopen unsolved sexual assault cases.

In Spain on Monday, feminist activists confronted a prominent far-right Spanish politician after he used an event against gender violence to advocate for abolishing the country’s law aimed at protecting women. The action reverberated in evening marches joined by tens of thousands across Spain in remembrance of more than 1,000 women who have been killed by their partners or former partners since the country began keeping records in 2003.

Macron, meanwhile, spoke with domestic violence victims in the Paris suburb of Créteil on Monday afternoon.

The International Criminal Police Organization, or INTERPOL, also put out a public call for help in finding eight international fugitives wanted for violent crimes against women.

A 2014 EU survey of 42,000 women across all 28 member states found that 26% of French respondents said they had been abused by a partner since age 15, either physically or sexually.

That’s below the global average of 30%, according to UN Women, a branch of the United Nations focused on gender equality and female empowerment. But it’s above the EU average and the sixth highest among EU countries.

Victims and activists have charged that French authorities often leave women unprotected, and a Justice Ministry report released earlier this month acknowledged authorities’ systematic failure to intervene to prevent domestic violence killings.

French activists have waged an unusual campaign this year to pressure the government to address domestic violence. They’ve glued posters with the names of victims over French city buildings and marched through the streets at each new death. Tens of thousands descended on Paris and other French cities over the weekend to demand stronger government action.

Among other measures announced Monday, the government will create prevention programs in schools, codify “psychological violence” as a form of domestic violence, and open two centers in each region to house perpetrators so that victims can remain in their homes.

Philippe said Monday that the government would create 80 new positions throughout the country for point officers to handle domestic violence complaints.

On Friday, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner and gender equality minister Marlène Schiappa unveiled a new 23-question evaluation rubric that police officers will use to assess the dangers women face.

Schiappa, who spearheaded the government project, said police training is a priority.

For some family members of victims, however, the measures announced Monday were too little, too late. Noujoud-Asia Ghemri, whose sister was allegedly killed by her husband in April, called them “a drop in the bucket.”

Ghemri said her sister, Dalila, was shot by her husband in front of their home in Vidauban in southern France shortly after a judge ruled that he could continue to enter the house for work reasons. The husband was arrested in April and handed preliminary murder charges. Preliminary charges under French law mean authorities have strong reason to believe a crime was committed but allow time for further investigation.

The regional prosecutor's office confirmed Monday that the husband remained incarcerated. His lawyer did not immediately respond to phone and email messages.

Ghemri voiced disappointment that the measures did not include training for judges who handle restraining orders or specialized courts for domestic violence complaints such as those that exist in Spain.

“I think that they didn’t hear ... all the women and men that cried on Saturday during all the demonstrations,” Ghemri said of the government.

Feminist activist Caroline de Haas, who helped organize Saturday’s action, called the government effort “a disappointment” in a statement Monday and said funding fell short of expectations. Activists had urged the state to dedicate at least a billion euros to the cause.

The European Parliament planned to observe a moment of silence for domestic violence victims and on Monday evening was to read aloud the 138 names of French women killed.

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Associated Press reporters Nicolas Vaux-Montagny and Angela Charlton in Paris, Cara Anna in Johannesburg and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.