| 23 April 2024, Tuesday |

Tensions on France’s streets ease, fewer arrests overnight

Fewer than 160 people were arrested overnight in connection to riots that have rocked cities across France following the killing of a teenager of North African descent 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 Olympics.

The death of Nahel, a 17-year-old with Algerian and Moroccan parents, has stoked longstanding complaints of discrimination, police violence and systemic racism among law enforcement – denied by authorities – from rights groups and within the low-income, racially mixed suburbs that ring major French cities.

Since he was shot on Tuesday, rioters have torched cars, looted stores and targeted town halls and other properties, with flashpoints in cities including Paris, Strasbourg in the east and Marseille and Nice in the south.

The Interior Ministry has poured up to 45,000 police onto the streets each night to quell the unrest, which has mostly been confined to the suburbs but occasionally erupted into clashes in tourist areas such as Paris’ Champs-Elysees avenue.

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

Three police officers were injured, the ministry said, while 300 vehicles were damaged by fire, according to provisional figures.

The grandmother of Nahel, who was shot by police during a traffic stop in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, said on Sunday the rioters were using his death as an excuse to cause havoc and said the family wanted calm.

“I tell them to stop it. It’s mothers who take buses, it’s mothers who walk outside. We should calm things, we don’t want them to break things,” the woman identified on BFM TV as Nadia said. “Nahel is dead, that’s all there is.”

Meeting mayors 

The riots amount to the worst crisis for Macron since the “Yellow Vest” protests over fuel prices gripped much of France in late 2018.

In mid-April, Macron gave himself 100 days to bring reconciliation and unity to a divided country after rolling strikes and sometimes-violent protests over his raising of the retirement age, which he had promised in his election campaign.

Macron postponed a state visit to Germany to deal with the crisis and had to leave an EU summit early. He is due to meet the leaders of parliament on Monday and more than 220 mayors of towns and cities that have been affected by riots on Tuesday.

Vincent Jeanbrun, the mayor of the Paris suburb of L’Hay-les-Roses, whose home was attacked while his wife and children were asleep inside on Saturday, on Monday described the situation as “a real nightmare”.

“We have been going through a state of siege,” Jeanbrun, a member of the center-right Les Republicains party, told BFM TV on Monday.

“I have myself grown up in L’Hay-les-Roses in these large housing blocks,” he said. “We were modest, we didn’t have much, but we wanted to overcome it, we had hope that we would make it with hard work.”

In Nanterre, in the west of Paris, flowers and other tributes mark the spot where Nahel was shot almost a week ago. Graffiti calls for revenge and criticizes the police.

And while tensions were still high, some residents said the material damage to vehicles and businesses should stop.

Forty-nine-year-old Josie Oranger said people who worked hard or borrowed to buy themselves a car or set up a business were being disadvantaged.

“All it takes is one night of trouble, and they’ve lost everything. It’s not their fault, everything that happened.”

The police officer involved has acknowledged firing a lethal shot, the state prosecutor says, telling investigators he wanted to prevent a dangerous police chase. His lawyer Laurent-Franck Lienard has said he did not intend to kill the teenager.

  • Asharq Al-Awsat