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Monday, June 17, 2024

Hundreds more arrested in fifth night of French rioting

The French government said Sunday that hundreds more had been arrested in a fifth night of rioting sparked by the police killing of a 17-year-old, as police deployed reinforcements to flashpoint cities around the country.

Protesters, mostly minors, have torched cars, damaged infrastructure and clashed with police in an outpouring of rage since an officer shot Nahel M. point blank as he attempted to flee a traffic stop on Tuesday.

The killing was captured on video, which spread on social media and fueled the anger over police violence against minorities, exposing severe racial tensions in France.

A day after Nahel was laid to rest in his home town near Paris, the interior ministry said police had made 719 arrests overnight, still a provisional tally, after around 1,300 the previous night.

Some 45 police officers or gendarmes were injured, 577 vehicles torched, 74 buildings set on fire and 871 fires set in streets and other public spaces, it said.

While nationwide numbers suggested an overall decline in tension across the country, police still recorded a number of incidents.

– ‘Horror and disgrace’ –

The mayor of a town south of Paris said rioters had rammed a car into his home, injuring his wife and one of his children, and set a fire.

“Last night the horror and disgrace reached a new level,” said the mayor, Vincent Jeanbrun, while prosecutors said they were investigating the incident for attempted murder.

Some 45,000 police were deployed across France, the same number as the night before, and backup was dispatched to the previous days’ flashpoints, including Lyon, Grenoble and Marseille.

Of the total, 7,000 were concentrated on Paris and its suburbs, including along tourist hotspot the Champs Elysees avenue in central Paris following calls on social media to take rioting to the heart of the capital.

The massive police presence had helped keep the violence in check, said Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.

“A calmer night thanks to the resolute action of the security forces,” he tweeted early Sunday.

In Marseille, which has seen intense clashes and looting, police dispersed groups of youths Saturday evening at Canebiere, the main avenue running through the centre of the city, AFP journalists said.

A number of towns have declared overnight curfews.

The protests present a fresh crisis for President Emmanuel Macron who had been hoping to press on with his second mandate after seeing off months of protests that erupted in January over raising the pensions age.

In an illustration of the situation’s gravity he postponed a state visit to Germany scheduled to begin Sunday.

– ‘Reflection’ –

Nahel’s funeral ceremony was held on Saturday in Nanterre, where he lived, with hundreds gathering peacefully along with his mother and grandmother.

The event was marked by “reflection” and went off “without incidents”, a witness told AFP.

In a bid to limit the ongoing violence, buses and trams in France have stopped running after 9:00 pm and the sale of large fireworks and inflammable liquids has been banned.

Marseille has stopped all urban transport from 6:00pm.

Macron has urged parents to take responsibility for underage rioters, one-third of whom were “young or very young”.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said Saturday that 30 percent of those arrested were minors, while Darmanin said the average age of those arrested was just 17.

The unrest has raised concerns abroad, with France hosting the Rugby World Cup in the autumn and the Paris Olympic Games in the summer of 2024.

Britain and other European countries updated their travel advice to warn tourists to stay away from areas affected by the rioting.

China’s consulate in Marseille similarly warned its citizens to “be vigilant and exercise caution” after state-run media reported the pelting with stones of a bus carrying Chinese tourists in the southern city.

Culture and entertainment have been disrupted, with singer Mylene Farmer calling off stadium concerts and French fashion house Celine cancelling its Paris menswear show.

A 38-year-old policeman has been charged with voluntary homicide over Nahel’s death and has been remanded in custody.

The UN rights office said Friday that the killing of the teen of North African descent was “a moment for the country to seriously address the deep issues of racism and racial discrimination in law enforcement”.

The French foreign ministry said any suggestion of systemic discrimination in the police force was “totally unfounded”.

© Agence France-Presse

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