Paris: Demonstrations began at French town halls Monday opposing nearly a week of violent protests over a teen’s fatal shooting by police, even as the first signs emerged that the unrest was beginning to ease.
The government has battled riots and looting since 17-year-old Nahel M. was shot dead by a police officer during a traffic stop on Tuesday, reviving longstanding accusations of racism against the French police force.
During a sixth consecutive night of unrest, a fireman died while seeking to douse burning vehicles north of Paris but it was unclear if there was a link to the violent protests, the interior ministry said.
Monday’s demonstrations - called 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.
In a statement, an association of the country’s mayors noted that areas “everywhere in France are the scene of serious unrest, which targets republican symbols with extreme violence”.
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.
A total of 157 people were arrested in relation to the unrest nationwide, according to the interior ministry - a fraction of the number taken into custody the night before. Three police officers were also wounded.
Among 3,200 people arrested in rioting since Tuesday, the average age was 17 and some were “children, there is no other word, of 12 or 13,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on a visit to eastern city Reims.
Internal affairs investigators on Monday began interviewing a passenger in the car Nahel was driving without a licence, a police source told AFP.
Meanwhile, a collection for the family of the 38-year-old policeman who fired the fatal shot - now charged with voluntary manslaughter - topped 930,000 euros (over $1.0 million).
‘Threatened with death’
Vincent Jeanbrun, the conservative mayor of L’Hay-les-Roses outside Paris, had his home rammed with a burning car with the aim of setting it on fire, breaking the leg of his wife who was at home with their children aged five and seven.
The attack was condemned across the spectrum including by the hard left, while prosecutors have opened an attempted murder investigation.
“There is no doubt that they wanted to burn the house” and, when “they realised that there was someone inside, far from stopping, they set off a broadside of fireworks mortars,” Jeanbrun told TF1 late Sunday.
“I never would have imagined that my family would be threatened with death,” he added.w
The 24-year-old fireman who died was fighting a fire in an underground car park in the suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis north of the capital, Darmanin said.
“An investigation is underway” to determine the circumstances of the vehicle fires, the interior ministry added.
A police source, who asked not to be named, indicated there was likely no link to the riots: “It would be going too far. Likely this is not the case, it is not an area affected by urban violence.”
Nadia, the grandmother of Nahel, who was of Algerian origin, said Sunday that rioters were only using his death as a “pretext” and called for calm.
Although the violence appears to be diminishing, questions remain about its origins.
“I can’t support people smashing and burning things, who would?” said Fatiha Abdouni, 52, founder of a women’s association in Nahel’s home town Nanterre.
Nevertheless, “now we have to listen to the young people, their frustration and anger,” she added.
Youths in Paris’ deprived suburbs face “daily difficulties, unequal access to study, to work, to housing,” Abdouni said - needing only the “spark” of Nahel’s death to trigger the violence.
Regional authorities in the greater Paris area of Ile-de-France, Germany-bordering Grand Est and Mediterranean Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur announced tens of millions of euros in emergency support to repair public buildings and small businesses.
‘Understand in depth’
The protests present a fresh crisis for Macron, who had been hoping to press on with pledges for his second term after seeing off months of demonstrations that erupted in January over raising the retirement age.
Meeting key ministers late Sunday, Macron gave an order to “begin meticulous and longer-term work to understand in depth the reasons that led to these events,” a presidential official said, asking not to be named.
He will meet the heads of the two chambers of parliament on Monday, and the mayors of more than 220 towns hit by the unrest on Tuesday, the Elysee said.
The latest 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.
Macron postponed a state visit to Germany that had been scheduled to begin on Sunday in an indication of the gravity of the situation at home.