PARIS – Riots raged in cities across France for a fourth night despite a huge police deployment and 1,311 arrests, with cars and buildings burned and shops looted, as family and friends prepared to bury on Saturday the 17-year-old whose murder by police sparked the unrest.
The French Interior Ministry has announced the new figure for arrests across the country, where 45,000 police have deployed in a so far unsuccessful attempt to quell the violence.
Despite an appeal to parents by President Emmanuel Macron to keep their children at home, street clashes between young protesters and police have raged. About 2,500 fires were started and shops were ransacked, authorities said.
The funeral ceremony for the teenager, identified only as Nahel, who was killed by police in the Paris suburb of Nanterre on Tuesday, began on Saturday. Family and friends watched the open coffin before it was taken to a mosque for a ceremony and later buried in a city cemetery.
As the number of arrests continued to rise, the government suggested the violence was starting to decrease thanks to tighter security measures.
Still, the damage was widespread, from Paris to Marseille via Lyon and even very far, in the French overseas territories, where a 54-year-old man died after being hit by a stray bullet in French Guiana .
France’s national football team – including international star Kylian Mbappe, an idol of many young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods where anger is entrenched – has pleaded for an end to the violence.
“Many of us come from working-class neighborhoods, we too share this feeling of pain and sadness” over the murder of 17-year-old Nahel, the players said in a statement. “Violence solves nothing. … There are other peaceful and constructive ways to express yourself.
Instead, they said it was time to “mourn, dialogue and rebuild”.
Nahel’s murder has fueled long-simmering tensions between police and housing estate youth struggling against poverty, unemployment and racial discrimination. The ensuing riots are the worst France has seen in years and put further pressure on Macron, who has accused social media of fueling the violence.
Anger erupted in the Paris suburbs after Nahel’s death on Tuesday and quickly spread across the country.
Early on Saturday, firefighters in Nanterre put out fires started by protesters who left burnt remains of cars strewn in the streets. In the nearby suburb of Colombes, protesters overturned trash cans and used them for makeshift barricades.
During the evening, looters broke into an armory and fled with weapons in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, police said. Officers in Marseille arrested nearly 90 people as groups of protesters set burning cars and smashed shop windows to grab what was inside.
Buildings and businesses were also vandalized in the eastern city of Lyon, where a third of some 30 arrests made were for thefts, police said. Authorities reported street fires after an unauthorized protest drew more than 1,000 people earlier Friday night.
In Friday’s nighttime violence, 917 people were arrested across the country, 500 buildings targeted, 2,000 vehicles burned and dozens of shops ransacked.
While the number of overnight arrests was the highest yet, there were fewer fires, torched cars and raided police stations across France than the previous night, according to the Interior Ministry . Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said the violence was “much less intense”.
Hundreds of police and firefighters were injured, including 79 overnight, but authorities have not released an injury tally for protesters.
Nanterre mayor Patrick Jarry said France must “push for change” in deprived neighborhoods.
Despite repeated calls from the government for calm and tougher policing, Friday was also the scene of brazen violence in broad daylight. An Apple store was looted in the eastern city of Strasbourg, where police fired tear gas, and the windows of a fast food restaurant were smashed in a shopping center in the Paris region, where officers have pushed back people who tried to break into a closed store, authorities said.
Faced with an escalating crisis that hundreds of arrests and massive police deployments failed to quell, Macron delayed declaring a state of emergency, an option that was used in circumstances similar in 2005.
Instead, his government has stepped up its law enforcement response, with the massive deployment of police, some of whom have been called back from vacation.
Darmanin on Friday ordered the nightly closure of all public buses and trams across the country, which have been among the targets of rioters. He also said he warned social media not to allow themselves to be used as channels for calls for violence.
“They were very cooperative,” Darmanin said, adding that French authorities were providing the platforms with information in hopes of cooperation identifying those inciting violence.
“We will prosecute anyone who uses these social networks to commit acts of violence,” he said.
Macron also focused on social media platforms that relayed dramatic images of vandalism and the burning of cars and buildings. Distinguishing Snapchat and TikTok, he said they were used to stage unrest and served as conduits for copycat violence.
The violence comes just over a year before Paris and other French cities are expected to welcome 10,500 Olympians and millions of visitors for the Summer Olympics. Organizers said they are monitoring the situation closely as preparations for Paris 2024 continue.
The police officer accused of killing Nahel has been handed a preliminary charge of intentional homicide. Preliminary charges mean that investigating magistrates strongly suspect wrongdoing, but must investigate further before taking a case to court. Nanterre prosecutor Pascal Prache said his initial investigation led him to conclude that the officer’s use of his weapon was not legally justified.
Nahel’s mother, identified as Mounia M., told France 5 television that she was angry with the officer, but not with the police in general. “He saw a little Arab-looking boy, he wanted to kill himself,” she said.
“A police officer cannot take his gun and shoot our children, take our children’s lives,” she said. The family has roots in Algeria.
Race has been a taboo subject for decades in France, officially attached to a doctrine of colorblind universalism. In the wake of Nahel’s murder, French anti-racism activists have renewed their complaints about police behavior.
Thirteen people who failed to comply with roadside checks were shot and killed by French police last year. This year, three other people, including Nahel, died in similar circumstances. The deaths have sparked demands for more accountability in France, which has also seen racial justice protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police.
This week’s protests echoed the three-week 2005 riots that followed the deaths of 15-year-old Bouna Traoré and 17-year-old Zyed Benna, who were electrocuted while hiding from police in an electrical substation in Clichy-sous-Bois.
Lewis Joly reported from Nanterre. Claire Rush in Portland, Oregon, and Angela Charlton in Paris, contributed to this report.
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