A French police officer in riot gear looks on next to burnt cars at the Pablo Picasso neighbourhood in Nanterre on July 1, 2023.
Charly Triballeau | Afp | Getty Images
More than 1,300 people were arrested in France during a fourth night of rioting before the funeral on Saturday of Nahel M, whose shooting by police sparked the unrest, in the Paris suburb where the teenager died.
The government deployed 45,000 police and several armoured vehicles overnight to tackle the worst crisis of President Emmanuel Macron’s leadership since the “Yellow Vest” protests which brought much of France to a standstill in late 2018.
Macron postponed a state visit to Germany that was due to begin on Sunday due to the unrest, both countries said.
The interior ministry said on Twitter that 1,311 people had been arrested overnight, compared with 875 the previous night, although the violence was “lower in intensity”.
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, where buses were halted and the area quiet on a damp Saturday morning after more overnight rioting.
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, told Reuters that she had come to express support for Nahel’s family.
“I think 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. Macron had denied there is systemic racism in French law enforcement agencies.
“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.
Buildings and vehicles have been torched and stores looted in the unrest, which has spread nationwide, including to cities such as Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg and Lille.
More than 200 police officers have been injured, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said, adding that the average age of those arrested was 17. Looters have ransacked dozens of shops and torched some 2,000 vehicles since the riots started.
Friday night’s arrests included 80 people in Marseille, which is home to many people of North African descent.
Social media images showed an explosion rocking the old port area of the southern city, but authorities said they did not believe there were any casualties.
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 early on Saturday.
A burned bus is seen at the Aubervilliers bus terminal, north of Paris following police three days after a 17-year-old boy was shot in the chest by police at point-blank range in Nanterre, Paris, France on June 30, 2023.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
In Lyon, France’s third-largest city, police deployed armored personnel carriers and a helicopter, while in Paris, they cleared protesters from the Place de la Concorde.
Darmanin had asked local authorities to halt buses and trams, while Macron urged parents to keep children at home.
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.
“Quite simply, we’re not ruling out any hypothesis and we’ll see after tonight what the President of the Republic chooses,” Darmanin said on Friday when asked on television news whether the government could declare a state of emergency.
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 canceled, while Tour de France organizers said they were ready to adapt to any situation when the cycle race enters the country on Monday from Spain.
Macron left a European Union summit in Brussels on Friday early to attend a second cabinet crisis meeting in two days and asked social media to remove “the most sensitive” footage of rioting and to disclose identities of users fomenting violence.
Videos on social media showed urban landscapes ablaze. A tram was set alight in the eastern city of Lyon and 12 buses gutted in a depot in Aubervilliers, northern Paris.
Darmanin met representatives from Meta, Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok. Snapchat said it had zero tolerance for content that promoted violence.
As some Western countries warned citizens to be cautious, some tourists were worried, while others were supportive of the protests.
“Racism and problems with the police and minorities is an important topic going on and it’s important to address it,” U.S. tourist Enzo Santo Domingo said in Paris.
In Geneva, the U.N. rights office urged authorities to ensure that use of force was non-discriminatory, prompting France to dismiss any allegation of systemic discrimination by its law enforcement agencies as “totally unfounded”.
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 toward his chest. “Obviously (the officer) didn’t want to kill the driver,” Lienard said on BFM TV.