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France endures fifth night of violence after teenager’s funeral with street battles in Marseille


France has endured a fifth night of violence following a day when emotional mourners gathered for the funeral of a teenager whose killing by police sparked nationwide unrest.

Even though the rioting appeared to be less intense on Saturday, with tens of thousands of police deployed in cities across the country, more than 700 people were arrested. Police fired tear gas and fought street battles with protestors late into the night in flashpoint Marseilles.

Earlier in the day, 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk was laid to rest in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, where he had been shot dead by a police officer during a traffic stop on Tuesday, triggering days of fierce clashes.

A man reacts as he is detained and questioned by police officers during a demonstration against police in Marseille

(AFP via Getty Images)

President Emmanuel Macron postponed a state visit to Germany, which was due to begin on Sunday, to handle the worst crisis for his leadership since the “Yellow Vest” protests paralysed much of France in late 2018.

Some 45,000 police were on the streets with specialised elite units, armoured vehicles and helicopters brought in to reinforce its three largest cities, Paris, Lyon, and Marseille.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, the situation was calmer than the previous four nights, although there was some tension in central Paris, and sporadic clashes in the Mediterranean city of Nice and the eastern city of Strasbourg, with Marseille city centre proving to be the biggest flashpoint.

In Paris, police increased security at the city’s landmark Champs Elysees Avenue following a call on social media to gather there. The street, usually packed with tourists, was lined with security forces carrying out spot checks. Shop facades were boarded up to prevent potential damage and pillaging.

A sketch of Nehal with the words ‘Justice for Nehal’ written across his chest

(Supplied)

The interior ministry said 1,311 people had been arrested on Friday night, compared with 875 the previous night, although it described the violence as “lower in intensity”. Police had made 719 arrests nationwide by early Sunday.

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

This came after a day of heightened emotions when several hundred people lined up to enter Nanterre’s grand mosque for the funeral of the teenager, of Algerian and Moroccan parents, who was fatally shot by police.

A group of police officers walk during a protest in Nanterre, outside Paris on Saturday

(Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Volunteers in yellow vests stood guard, 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.

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.

Police officers on motorcycles patrol on the Champs Elysees in Paris

(Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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

Nahel was known to police for previously failing to comply with traffic stop orders and was illegally driving a rental car, the Nanterre prosecutor said on Thursday.

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

There is also a broader anger in the country’s poorest suburbs, where inequalities and crime are rife and French leaders have failed for decades to tackle what some politicians have called a “geographical, social and ethnic apartheid.”

President Emmanuel Macron postponed a state visit to Germany, which was due to begin on Sunday, to handle the worst crisis for his leadership since the “Yellow Vest” protests paralysed much of France in late 2018

(Stephanie Lecocq /Reuters)

The unrest, a blow to France’s global image just a year from holding the Olympic Games, will add political pressure on Macron.

He had already faced months of anger and sometimes violent demonstrations across the country after pushing through a pension overhaul.

Postponement of the state visit to Germany is the second time this year he has had to cancel a high-level event because of the domestic situation in France. In March, he cancelled King Charles’ planned state visit.

Demonstrators run as French police officers use tear gas in Paris on Sunday

(AFP via Getty Images)

Rioters have torched 2,000 vehicles since the start of the unrest. More than 200 police officers have been injured, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Saturday, adding that the average age of those arrested was 17.

Justice Minister Eric Dupont-Moretti said 30% of detainees were under 18.

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

French riot police officers walk next to a vehicle upside down during the fifth day of protests

(REUTERS)

In Marseille, where 80 people had been arrested on Friday, police said they had detained 60 people.

“It’s very scary. We can hear a helicopter and are just not going out because it’s very worrying,” said Tatiana, 79, a pensioner who lives in the city centre.

In Lyon, France’s third largest city, police deployed armoured personnel carriers and a helicopter.

The unrest has revived memories of nationwide riots in 2005 that lasted three weeks and 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.

Employees examine a damaged Fursac shop in the centre of Marseille, southern France on Saturday

(AFP via Getty Images)

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.

The South Winners supporters group, an influential fan group for Olympique de Marseille, called on the city’s youth to “be wise and show restraint”.

“By acting in this way you are dirtying Nahel’s memory and are also dividing our city.”

Events including two concerts at the Stade de France on the outskirts of Paris were cancelled, while LVMH-owned fashion house Celine cancelled its 2024 menswear show on Sunday, creative director Hedi Slimane said on Instagram.

A woman walks past a wall lit up by a nearby fire on which it is written, ‘Police kill’, during clashes with police in Lyon on Friday

(AFP via Getty Images)

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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