France riots: Minister deploys 45,000 police amid riots

  • Government says all options on table for restoring order
  • Three nights of unrest rock major French cities
  • Hundreds arrested, more than 200 police injured
  • Macron asks social media to take down sensitive videos
  • President leaves Brussels summit early

PARIS, June 30 (Reuters) – France’s interior minister said on Friday the coming hours would be decisive as he sent 45,000 police onto the streets following three nights of riots since an officer shot dead a teenager at a traffic stop in a working class suburb of Paris.

The violence, in which buildings and vehicles have been torched and stores looted, has plunged President Emmanuel Macron into the gravest crisis of his leadership since the Yellow Vest protests that started in 2018.

Unrest has flared nationwide, including in cities such as Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg and Lille as well as Paris where Nahel M., a 17-year-old of Algerian and Moroccan descent, was shot on Tuesday in the Nanterre suburb.

His death, which was caught on video, has reignited longstanding complaints by poor, racially mixed, urban communities of police violence and racism.

In the centre of the southern city of Marseille, France’s second largest, rioters looted a gun store on Friday night and stole some hunting rifles but no ammunition, Marseille police said. One individual was arrested with a rifle likely coming from the store, police said. The store was now being guarded by police.

Authorities earlier banned demonstrations in the city set for Friday, and encouraged restaurants to close outdoor areas early. They said public transport would stop at 7 p.m.

Police said they had arrested 80 people. Two police officers were slighted wounded. A police helicopter flew overhead.

“The next hours will be decisive and I know I can count on your flawless efforts,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote to firefighters and police officers, seeking to quell the unrest that has been breaking out after nightfall.

He asked local authorities to halt bus and tram traffic from 9 p.m. (1900 GMT) across France and later said 45,000 officers from the police forces would be deployed on Friday evening, 5,000 more than on Thursday.

Asked on TF1’s main evening television news programme whether the government could declare a state of emergency, Darmanin said: “Quite simply, we’re not ruling out any hypothesis and we’ll see after tonight what the President of the Republic chooses.”

More than 200 police were injured on Thursday night, and more than 900 people were arrested, Darmanin said, adding their average age was 17.

While so far the worst of the violence has been confined mostly to city suburbs, any sign it is spreading into the centres of France’s biggest cities would mark a significant escalation.

Police started clearing protesters from the iconic central Paris square of Place de la Concorde on Friday evening after an impromptu demonstration.

Looters ransacked shops including an Apple store in Strasbourg on Friday, a local official said. A source told Reuters several Casino supermarkets had also been looted.

In the Chatelet Les Halles shopping mall in central Paris, a Nike shoe store was broken into, and several people were arrested after store windows were smashed along the adjacent Rue de Rivoli shopping street, police said.

Events including two concerts at the Stade de France on the outskirts of the capital were cancelled. Tour de France organisers said they were ready to adapt to any situation when the race enters the country on Monday after starting in the Spanish city of Bilbao.

Macron left a European Union summit in Brussels early to attend a second cabinet crisis meeting in two days.

He has asked social media to remove “the most sensitive” footage of rioting and to disclose identities of users fomenting violence. Darmanin met representatives from Meta, Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok. Snapchat said it had zero tolerance for content that promoted violence.

A friend of the victim’s family, Mohamed Jakoubi, who watched Nahel grow up, said the rage was fuelled by a sense of injustice after incidents of police violence against minority ethnic communities, many from former French colonies.

“We are fed up, we are French too. We are against violence, we are not scum,” he said.

Macron denies there is systemic racism inside law enforcement agencies.


Videos on social media showed urban landscapes ablaze. A tram was set alight in the eastern city of Lyon and 12 buses gutted in a depot in Aubervilliers, northern Paris.

In Nanterre on the capital’s outskirts overnight into Friday, protesters torched cars, barricaded streets and hurled projectiles at police following an earlier peaceful vigil.

The energy minister said several staff of power distribution firm Enedis were injured by stones during clashes. The interior ministry said 79 police posts were attacked overnight, as well as 119 public buildings including 34 town halls and 28 schools.

Some tourists were worried, others supportive of protesters.

“Racism and problems with the police and minorities is an important topic going on and it’s important to address it,” U.S. tourist Enzo Santo Domingo said in Paris.

Some Western governments warned citizens to be cautious.

In Geneva, the U.N. rights office emphasised the importance of peaceful assembly and urged French authorities to ensure that use of force by police was non-discriminatory.

“This is a moment for the country to seriously address the deep issues of racism and racial discrimination in law enforcement,” spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said.

The policeman whom prosecutors say acknowledged firing a lethal shot at the teenager is in preventive custody under formal investigation for voluntary homicide – equivalent to being charged under Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions.

His lawyer, Laurent-Franck Lienard, said his client had aimed down at the driver’s leg but was bumped when the car took off, causing him to shoot towards his chest. “Obviously (the officer) didn’t want to kill the driver,” Lienard said on BFM TV.

The unrest has revived memories of three weeks of nationwide riots in 2005 that forced then President Jacques Chirac to declare a state of emergency following the death of two young men electrocuted in a power substation as they hid from police.

Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Tassilo Hummel, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Marc Leras, Jean-Stephane Brosse, Benoit Van Overstraeten, Pascal Rossignol, Elizabeth Pineau, Marc Leras, Layli Foroudi, Mimosa Spencer’ Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber, and Charlotte Van Campenhout in Amsterdam; Writing by John Stonestreet, Alison Williams and Sandra Maler; Editing by Philippa Fletcher, Andrew Cawthorne and Dan Wallis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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