French elected officials attend a "citizens gathering" in front of the town hall of Persan, which was partially burnt during night clashes, following the death of Nahel, a 17-year-old teenager killed by a French police officer in Nanterre during a traffic stop, in Persan, near Paris, France, July 3, 2023. Image Credit: REUTERS

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday met with hundreds of French officials to begin exploring the “deeper reasons” for the country’s plunge into riots after the killing of a teenager at a traffic stop.

The Elysee palace meeting with around 250 mayors, whose municipalities suffered damage over a week of violence, comes as the authorities reported a much calmer night across the country.

“Is it a permanent return to calm? I will be cautious, but the peak that we’ve seen in previous days has passed,” Macron said, according to a participant.

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“We all want a lasting, republican order,” he said. “That’s the absolute priority.”

The government has battled riots and looting since 17-year-old Nahel M. was killed by an officer during a traffic stop on Tuesday just outside Paris, rekindling long-standing accusations of systemic racism among security forces.

Overnight violence in French cities had halved in 24 hours, the interior ministry said, with 72 people arrested overnight nationwide.

That included 24 arrested in and around Paris, where the riots first broke out.

The interior ministry said dozens of buildings were damaged - including attacks on four offices of police or gendarmes - but there were no injuries.

More than 150 vehicles had been set ablaze, and hundreds of fires started in rubbish bins or other public areas.

Police mobilisation had been kept at the same level as the two previous nights, at 45,000 across France.

Mayors across France had held rallies Monday calling for an end to the violent clashes.

‘Painstaking long-term work’

Their call for a “return to republican order” came after the home of the mayor of a Paris suburb was rammed with a burning car, prompting widespread outrage.

In an overnight tweet, Macron thanked police, gendarmes and firefighters for their “extraordinary mobilisation in these recent nights”, after meeting with police late Monday.

At the gathering of mayors, Macron was hoping to “start the painstaking, long-term work needed to understand the deeper reasons that led to these events”, an official at the president’s office said.

Just under 4,000 arrests have been made since Friday, including more than 1,200 minors, according to justice ministry figures.

Macron raised the idea of handing out quick-fire fines to the parents of children caught for vandalism or robberies.

“With the first crime, we need to find a way of sanctioning the families financially and easily,” he said, according to comments reported by the Parisien newspaper.

‘Destroyed everything’

French businesses were meanwhile counting the cost of the seven nights of rioting which left countless shops and other outlets vandalised.

“They destroyed everything,” said Alexandre Manchon, who works in a tobacconist’s in the southern city of Marseille which has seen some of the worst looting.

“None of this is our doing, we are just working people who get up at five in the morning so we can feed our children and families,” he told AFP.

Despite the fall in violent incidents “everybody worries that it may be a false calm”, said Abdelhamid Faddeoui, who runs private security firm Aetos Securite Privee.

“Most of my clients are maintaining a high level of protection.”

Employers’ organisations called on the government to create an emergency fund “for those who lost everything”.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Tuesday the government may allow businesses in the riots to suspend tax and social security payments as they rebuild.

Police meanwhile said it questioned one of the passengers in the car driven by Nahel M., who had turned himself in, to find out more about the exact circumstances of the shooting.

The policeman who fired the lethal shot remained in custody Tuesday, charged with homicide.

An online collection for the family of the 38-year old, launched by far-right figure Jean Messiha, has gathered more 1.4 million euros ($1.5 million), sparking outrage among the political left.

“It pays to kill a young Arab,” tweeted Manon Aubry, a European Parliament deputy for the hard-left LFI party.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne also expressed her unease with the initiative, saying it did not “contribute to calming the situation”.

A fund to support the family of Nahel has run to just under 346,000 euros.