Riots that have rocked France for days in the wake of police shooting a teenager at a traffic stop finally appear to be calming – with crowds gathering at town halls across the country to protest the violence and looting.
Police made fewer than 160 arrests overnight into Monday, offering some relief for president Emmanuel Macron, with the death of Nahel Merzouk, 17, tapping a deep vein of anti-police resentment – particularly in the diverse suburbs around the country’s major cities. There had been more than 3,000 arrests since Nahel was killed on Tuesday in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, including 1,300 on Friday.
A car was rammed into the home of the mayor of the Paris suburb of L’Hay-les-Roses over the weekend, an unusually personal attack that authorities said could be prosecuted as an attempted homicide. The attack prompted an outpouring of support for local governments.
The suburb’s mayor, Vincent Jeanbrun said his wife – who broke her leg – and one of his children were injured and criticised the government for doing too little, too late
“The base ingredients are still there,” he told BFMTV on Monday. “We are powerless summer after summer.”
Mr Macron has asked for a significant police presence on the streets, although some politicians – including Mr Jeanbrun – have said the government is merely papering over the cracks by concentrating on the youth of protesters and blaming parents.
The interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, took aim at that target again on Monday, saying the average age of those arrested was 17 with some as young as 12.
“It’s not up to the national police or the gendarmerie or the mayor or the state to solve the problem of a 12-year-old setting fire to a school. It’s a question of parental authority,” Mr Darmanin said during a visit to Reims.
In the town of Persan south of Paris, where rioters smashed the town hall’s windows and damaged its facade in an arson attack, local residents denounced the unrest – one of scores of similar “citizens’ gatherings” nationwide on Monday.
“Let these wrongdoers hear it and let them know that hatred will never prevail,” the town’s mayor, Valentin Ratieuville.
Nahel’s family have also called for an end to the violence. The aunt of Nahel, Hatifa, urged for the “violence to stop” in an interview with The Independent over the weekend – and that her nephew’s death should trigger “real change” peacefully.
A political row has also broken out over a fundraising effort for the family of the French police officer under investigation for shooting Nahel. The collection, for the 38-year-old officer – named as Florian M – was organised by Jean Messiha, a former spokesperson for the far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour. By Monday it had raised more than €1m (£860,000) and attracted more than 50,000 donations. A similar collection for the family of Nahel has raised significantly less at more than €200,000.
Nahel’s grandmother Nadia said she was “heartbroken” by the support shown for the officer. “He took the life of my grandson. This man must pay, the same as everyone,” she told the BFM television channel on Sunday. “I have confidence in the justice system. I believe in justice.”
“Jean Messiha is playing with fire,” said MP Eric Bothorel, part of president Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party. He called the fundraiser “indecent and scandalous”.
The justice minister, Eric Dupond-Moretti, said the fundraiser was “fuelling the fire” of unrest, describing it as a populist “instrumentalisation” of the teenager’s death.
Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report
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