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France’s Macron halts trip over riots, as family buries teenager

riots after a teenager shot dead by police in paris suburb
Photo by Reuters

More than 1,300 people were arrested in France during a fourth night of rioting and President Emmanuel Macron cancelled a trip to Germany on Saturday as the funeral took place of teenager Nahel M, whose shooting by police sparked nationwide unrest.

Macron’s government deployed 45,000 police officers as well as armoured vehicles overnight to tackle the worst crisis for his leadership since the “Yellow Vest” protests which paralysed much of France in late 2018.

A similar number of police would again be on the street into Saturday night, interior minister Gerald Darmanin told a press conference, with reinforcements sent to major cities Lyon and Marseille.

The French president postponed a state visit to Germany that was due to begin on Sunday.

The interior ministry said on Twitter that 1,311 people had been arrested overnight, compared with 875 the previous night, although it described the violence as “lower in intensity”.

Finance minister Bruno Le Maire said more than 700 shops supermarkets, restaurants and bank branches had been “ransacked, looted and sometimes even burnt to the ground since Tuesday”.

Local authorities all over the country announced bans on demonstrations and ordered public transport to stop running in the evening.

Nahel, a 17-year-old of Algerian and Moroccan descent, was shot by a police officer during a traffic stop on Tuesday in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

For the funeral, several hundred people lined up to enter Nanterre’s grand mosque, which was guarded by volunteers in yellow vests, while a few dozen bystanders watched from across the street.

Some of the mourners, their arms crossed, said “God is Greatest” in Arabic, as they spanned the boulevard in prayer.

Salsabil, a young woman of Arab descent, said she had come to express support for Nahel’s family. “It’s important we all stand together,” she said.

Marie, 60, said she had lived in Nanterre for 50 years and there had always been problems with the police.

“This absolutely needs to stop. The government is completely disconnected from our reality,” she said.

The shooting of the teenager, caught on video, has reignited longstanding complaints by poor and racially mixed urban communities of police violence and racism.

“If you have the wrong skin colour, the police are much more dangerous to you,” said a young man, who declined to be named, adding that he was a friend of Nahel’s.

Macron has denied there is systemic racism in French law enforcement agencies.

SHOPS RANSACKED

Rioters have torched 2,000 vehicles since the start of the unrest, which has spread to cities including Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg and Lille.

More than 200 police officers have been injured, Darmanin said, adding that the average age of those arrested was 17. Justice Minister Eric Dupont-Moretti said 30% of detainees were under 18.

Friday night’s arrests included 80 people in Marseille, home to many people of North African descent.

Social media images showed an explosion rocking the old port area of the southern city, but no casualties were reported.

Rioters in France’s second largest city had looted a gun store and stole hunting rifles, but no ammunition, police said.

Mayor Benoit Payan called on the government to send extra troops to tackle “pillaging and violence” in Marseille, where three police officers were slightly wounded on Saturday.

In Lyon, France’s third largest city, police deployed armoured personnel carriers and a helicopter, while in Paris, they cleared protesters from the Place de la Concorde. Lyon Mayor Gregory Doucet has also called for reinforcements.

The unrest has revived memories of nationwide riots in 2005 that forced then President Jacques Chirac to declare a state of emergency, after the death of two young men electrocuted in a power substation as they hid from police.

Players from the national soccer team issued a rare statement calling for calm. “Violence must stop to leave way for mourning, dialogue and reconstruction,” they said on star Kylian Mbappe’s Instagram account.

Events including two concerts at the Stade de France on the outskirts of Paris were cancelled, while LVMH-owned LVMH.PA fashion house Celine cancelled its 2024 menswear show on Sunday, according to Women’s Wear Daily.

Tour de France organisers said they were ready to adapt to any situation when the cycle race enters the country on Monday from Spain.

Videos on social media showed urban landscapes ablaze, with a tram set alight in the eastern city of Lyon and 12 buses gutted in a depot in Aubervilliers, northern Paris.

With the government urging social media companies to remove inflammatory material, Darmanin met officials from Meta, Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok. Snapchat said it had zero tolerance for content that promoted violence.

The policeman whom prosecutors say acknowledged firing a lethal shot at Nahel is in preventive custody under formal investigation for voluntary homicide, equivalent to being charged under Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions.

His lawyer, Laurent-Franck Lienard, said his client had aimed at the driver’s leg but was bumped when the car took off, causing him to shoot towards his chest. “Obviously (the officer) didn’t want to kill the driver,” Lienard said on BFM TV.

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