Pedestrians walk on Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, on July 2, 2023, a day after protesters took to the street and clashed with police on an iconic street popular with tourists during a protest against the police killig of a 17-year-old teenage boy. Image Credit: AFP

Paris: France's mayors called on the public and elected officials on Monday to hold rallies opposing nearly a week of violent protests, even as the first signs emerged that the unrest was beginning to ease.

During a sixth consecutive night of rioting, a fireman died while seeking to douse burning vehicles north of Paris but there was no immediate indication of a connection with the violent protests, the interior ministry said.

The call for a "mobilisation of citizens for a return to republican order" came after the home of the mayor of a Paris suburb was rammed with a flaming car, prompting widespread outrage.

Seeking to quell what has become one of the biggest challenges to President Emmanuel Macron since he took office in 2017, the interior ministry again deployed 45,000 police and gendarmes nationwide overnight Sunday to Monday, the same figure as the previous two nights.

While tensions have ebbed, the shooting of Nahel, a 17-year-old of North African descent, remains a flashpoint in a crisis over racism and inequality in France that's drawing comparisons with America's reaction to the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

"We have to remain cautious," Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said on France Inter radio when asked whether unrest had calmed down overnight.

Arrests on Sunday night down

Fewer than 160 people were arrested overnight in connection to riots that have rocked cities across France following the killing of a teenager by a police officer, the interior ministry said on Monday.

The relative calm following five nights of heavy riots offered some relief to the government of Emmanuel Macron in its fight to regain control of the situation, just months after widespread protests over an unpopular pension reform and a year out from hosting the Olympic Summer Games.

The interior ministry said 157 people were arrested overnight, down from over 700 arrests the night before and over 1,300 on Friday night.

Three of the 45,000 police officers deployed overnight were injured, the ministry said, while around 350 buildings and 300 vehicles were damaged, according to provisional figures.
French President Emmanuel Macron attends a government emergency meeting after riots erupted for the fifth night in a row across the country following the death of Nahel, in Paris, France, July 2, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

Macron met with key cabinet ministers into the evening hours on Sunday in an attempt to craft a response to the violence, which is testing his authority and ability to carry out reforms.

He kept some 45,000 police, special forces and armored vehicles deployed to contain clashes that have left hundreds of public buildings and shops damaged or ransacked in cities including Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Strasbourg. Macron will meet on Tuesday with some 220 French mayors to discuss the situation, Agence France-Presse reported after the cabinet talks.

Highlighting the seriousness of the rioting, Macron has delayed what would have been the first state visit to Germany by a French president in 23 years, which had been scheduled to start Sunday evening.


Paris firefighter dies

A French fireman died while seeking to douse burning cars north of Paris, during a sixth consecutive night of rioting, the interior minister said on Monday.

The 24-year-old fireman died fighting the fire in an underground car park in the suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis north of the capital, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

"An investigation is underway" to determine the circumstances of the vehicle fires, the interior ministry added.

Darmanin did not explicitly refer to the rioting as a cause of the fires and it was not immediately clear if there was a direct link with the violence that has rocked France for almost a week.

"Last night, while battling multiple fires in Saint-Denis, a young (fire brigade) corporal died," said Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu on Twitter.

Transport Minister Clement Beaune added: "My thoughts go out to the public servants mobilised day and night for a return to calm."

Mayors call on public to gather in anti-riot display

France's mayors have called on members of the public and elected officials to gather at town halls across the country on Monday in a show of mass opposition to violent protests that have dragged on for nearly a week.

The extraordinary call for a "mobilisation of citizens for a return to republican order" came after the home of the mayor of a Paris suburb was rammed with a flaming car in an apparent bid to burn it down, prompting widespread outrage.

In a press release, an association of the country's mayors noted that "communes everywhere in France are the scene of serious unrest, which targets republican symbols with extreme violence".

Nahel's grandmother calls for calm

The grandmother of the French teenager whose fatal shooting by police has sparked several nights of unrest issued a plea for calm Sunday as the home of the mayor of a Paris suburb was attacked with a burning car in a new flaring of violence.

"Stop and do not riot," Nahel's grandmother, Nadia, told BFM television in a telephone interview, saying that the rioters were only using his death as a "pretext".

"I tell the people who are rioting this: Do not smash windows, attack schools or buses. Stop! It's the mums who are taking the bus, it's the mums who walk outside," she said.

Over 700 people arrested

The interior ministry said 719 people were arrested overnight, around half the figure from the previous night with intense clashes still reported in several places, including the southern city of Marseille, but calmer elsewhere.

Attention focused on the attack on the home of Vincent Jeanbrun, the right-wing mayor of L'Ha-les-Roses outside Paris which saw a burning car rammed by rioters into the entrance of his home with the aim of it setting fire to the building, prosecutors said.

The mayor's wife and children, aged 5 and 7, were at home, although the mayor himself was at the town hall to deal with the riots. The wife was "badly injured" sustaining a broken leg, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors have opened an attempted murder investigation. "Last night the horror and disgrace reached a new level," the mayor said in a statement.

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne addresses journalists in front of Val-de-Marne Prefect Sophie Thibault and the Mayor of L'Hay-les-Roses, Vincent Jeanbrun, after rioters rammed a vehicle into his house overnight, at the City Hall in L'Hay-les-Roses, south of Paris, France July 2, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

'Utmost severity'

"The situation was much calmer" overall Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told reporters as she visited L'Hay-les-Roses.

"But an act of the kind we saw this morning here is particularly shocking. We will let no violence get by" unpunished, she said, urging that the perpetrators be sanctioned with the "utmost severity".

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

The massive police presence 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.

But Paris police chief Laurent Nunez cautioned on BFM TV: "No-one is declaring victory."

French PM condemns
French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on Sunday condemned as "particularly shocking" an attack on the home of a mayor of a Paris suburb, urging tough punishments for the perpetrators.

"The situation was much calmer," Borne told reporters in the suburb of L'Hay-les-Roses after a fifth night of urban rioting proved less intense than previous nights. "But an act of the kind we saw this morning here is particularly shocking. We will let no violence get by" unpunished, she said, urging that the perpetrators be sanctioned with the "utmost severity".

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.

"They came specifically to do damage, loot and leave," said Youcef Bettahar, a shopkeeper at the Merlan shopping mall in Marseille. "We're really disgusted by what's happening."

France unrest
Police detain young people during the fifth night of protests on July 2, 2023, in the Champs Elysees area, in Paris, France. Image Credit: Reuters

Policing Practices

Nahel’s mother, identified only as Mounia, said in an interview with France 5 that she didn’t blame the police force. “I blame one person, the one who took my son’s life,” she said.

France’s unrest harks back to 2005 when weeks of riots followed the death of two boys in an electricity substation after a police chase. It has thrown a spotlight on French policing practices as well as long-simmering tensions in poorer suburbs.

In 2005, the French government declared a state of emergency that lasted close to two months, a move Macron has so far avoided.

'New crisis meeting'

The protests present a fresh crisis for 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 retirement age.

He postponed a state visit to Germany scheduled to begin on Sunday, in a sign of the gravity of the situation in France.

Macron will head a crisis meeting Sunday with members of his government, according to the Elysee.

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.

French riot police officers stand guard next to a burnt out trash bin during a demonstration against police in Marseille, southern France on July 1, 2023, after a fourth consecutive night of rioting in France over the killing of a teenager by police. French police arrested 1311 people nationwide during a fourth consecutive night of rioting over the killing of a teenager by police, the interior ministry said on July 1, 2023. France had deployed 45,000 officers overnight backed by light armoured vehicles and crack police units to quell the violence over the death of 17-year-old Nahel, killed during a traffic stop in a Paris suburb on July 27, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

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.

France's economic costs mount due to riots

All types of businesses have been targeted in the ongoing riots in France. On Saturday Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said some 10 shopping malls, more than 200 supermarkets, 250 tobacco shops, and 250 bank outlets had been attacked or looted the previous night. LVMH fashion label Celine cancelled its menswear show scheduled for Sunday in Paris.

Arrests in Switzerland

Six teenagers were arrested following unrest in the Swiss city of Lausanne inspired by the riots in France, Swiss police said Sunday, after more than a hundred youths damaged shops in the city centre.

Although nowhere near the scale of the violence in France, stones were thrown and show windows were smashed in Lausanne on Saturday evening, with a sneaker store particularly affected.

Besides the six youths, an adult was also arrested in the French-speaking Swiss city.

"Echoing the events and riots raging in France, more than a hundred youths gathered in central Lausanne and damaged businesses," the Lausanne police said in a statement.

The violence began "following several calls on social media", police said, and "several shop windows were smashed".

"On multiple occasions, police officers had to disperse aggressive, hooded youths throwing cobblestones and a Molotov cocktail at them."

Around 50 police officers were deployed, and none were injured.

The arrested were three girls, aged 15 or 16 - a Bosnian, a Portuguese and a Somali national; three boys aged 15 to 17 - a Swiss, a Georgian and a Serbian national; and a Swiss man aged 24.

A police investigation has been launched.

- With inputs from AFP, Reuters, AP and Bloomberg