France riots: Public transport curtailed after rage over shooting

  • PM Borne says all options for restoring order on table
  • Third night of unrest rocks major French cities
  • Hundreds arrested, more than 200 police injured
  • Macron convenes another cabinet crisis meeting
  • President leaves Brussels summit early

PARIS, June 30 (Reuters) – France asked all local authorities to halt public transport on Friday in a desperate attempt to restore order after rioters torched buildings and cars during a third night of rage sparked by the police shooting of a teenager.

Violence flared in the cities of Marseille, Lyon, Pau, Toulouse, Strasbourg and Lille as well as Paris where 17-year-old Nahel M. – of Algerian and Moroccan descent – was shot dead on Tuesday in the working class suburb of Nanterre.

His death, caught on video at a traffic stop, has ignited longstanding complaints among poor, racially mixed, urban communities of police violence and racism.

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

He asked local authorities to halt all bus and tram traffic from 9 p.m. (1900 GMT) across the whole of France.

With some 40,000 police officers deployed, more than 200 of them were injured and 875 people arrested overnight into Friday, authorities said. Buildings and vehicles were torched, and stores looted.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said the government would consider all options to stop “intolerable” violence.

President Emmanuel Macron left a European Union summit in Brussels early to attend what was the 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.

In the southern city of Marseille, France’s second largest, authorities banned demonstrations set for Friday, and encouraged restaurants to close outdoor areas early.

They said all public transport would stop at 7 p.m.

For Mohamed Jakoubi, who watched Nahel grow up as a child, the rage was fuelled by a sense of injustice in the banlieues 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. In 2020 his government promised “zero tolerance” of racism within law enforcement agencies.

FLASHPOINT NANTERRE

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, protesters torched cars, barricaded streets and hurled projectiles at police following an earlier peaceful vigil.

Looters ransacked shops including an Apple store in the eastern city of Strasbourg, a local official said. A source told Reuters that several Casino supermarkets had been looted.

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.

Concerts by French singer Mylene Farmer were cancelled at the Stade de France on Friday and Saturday.

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.

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,” American tourist Enzo Santo Domingo said.

Some Western governments warned citizens to be cautious.

In Geneva, the United Nations rights office emphasized 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 towards the driver’s leg but was bumped, 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.

That wave of violence erupted in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois following the death of two young men electrocuted in a power substation as they hid from police.

Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Jean-Stephane Brosse, Benoit Van Overstraeten, Pascal Rossignol, Elizabeth Pineau, Marc Leras and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber; writing by John Stonestreet and Alison Fletcher; editing by Philippa Fletcher

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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