Hundreds arrested as protests over teen's killing rock France for third night

Hundreds arrested as protests over teen's killing rock France for third night
Hundreds arrested as fresh protests over teen's killing rock France
5 min read
30 June, 2023
Police stand by as material explodes in the Cite Pablo Picasso area of Nanterre, north-west of Paris early 30 June 2023, as protests continue across France. [Getty]

France was reeling early Friday from a third straight night of protests over the killing of a teenager at the hands of police, with cars torched, buildings vandalised and hundreds arrested in cities across the country.

The overnight unrest followed a march on Thursday in memory of the 17-year-old, named Nahel, whose death has revived longstanding grievances about policing and racial profiling in France's low-income and multiethnic suburbs.

The Elysee announced early Friday that President Emmanuel Macron would cut short a trip to Brussels, where he was attending a European Union summit, to chair a crisis meeting on the violence - the second such sit-down in as many days.

Around 40,000 police and gendarmes - along with elite Raid and GIGN units - were deployed in several cities overnight, with curfews issued in municipalities around Paris and bans on public gatherings instated in Lille and Tourcoing in the country's north.

Despite the massive security deployment, violence and damage were reported in multiple areas. As of around 3:00 am (0100 GMT) on Friday, at least 421 people had been arrested across the country over the course of the night, according to the team of Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.

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"There aren't any very violent confrontations in direct contact with the police, but there are a number of vandalised stores, looted or even burned businesses," a senior national police officer said.

Public buildings were also targeted, with a police station in the Pyrenees city of Pau hit with a Molotov cocktail, according to regional authorities, and an elementary school and a district office set on fire in Lille.

France has been rocked by successive nights of protests since Nahel was shot point-blank on Tuesday during a traffic stop captured on video.

In her first media interview since the shooting, Nahel's mother, Mounia, told the France 5 channel: "I don't blame the police, I blame one person: the one who took the life of my son."

She said the 38-year-old officer responsible, who was detained and charged with voluntary manslaughter on Thursday, "saw an Arab face, a little kid, and wanted to take his life".

The memorial march for Nahel, led by Mounia, ended with riot police firing tear gas as several cars were set alight in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre, where the teenager lived and was killed.

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Around 150 people were arrested nationwide in relation to unrest on Wednesday, and as part of measures to restore calm, Paris bus and tram services were halted after 9:00 pm (1900 GMT) on Thursday, the region's president said.

But the measures and heightened security appeared to do little to deter unrest Thursday night.

In the city centre of Marseille, a library was vandalised, according to local officials, and scuffles broke out nearby when police used tear gas to disperse a group of 100 to 150 people who allegedly tried to set up barricades.

Multiple public buildings were also targeted in Seine-Saint-Denis, in the Paris metro area, according to a police source.

In the suburb of Drancy, rioters used a truck to force open the entrance to a shopping centre, which was then partly looted and burned, a police source said.

Firefighters in the northern municipality of Roubaix, meanwhile, dashed from blaze to blaze throughout the night, with a hotel near the train station also catching fire, sending its dozen or so residents fleeing into the streets.

"In two days, they did what the Yellow Vests did in two years," remarked one passerby, who declined to be named, referring to the spontaneous and sometimes violent anti-government protest movement that broke out in 2018.

In Nanterre, the epicentre of the unrest, tensions rose around midnight, with fireworks and explosives set off in the Pablo Picasso district, where Nahel had lived, according to an AFP journalist.

Macron has called for calm and said the protest violence was "unjustifiable".

The protests are a fresh challenge for the president, who had been looking to move past some of the biggest demonstrations in a generation sparked by a controversial rise in the retirement age.

Nahel was killed as he pulled away from police who were trying to stop him for a traffic infraction.

A video, authenticated by AFP, showed two police officers standing by the side of the stationary car, with one pointing a weapon at the driver.

A voice is heard saying: "You are going to get a bullet in the head."

The police officer then appears to fire as the car abruptly drives off.

Clashes first erupted as the video emerged, contradicting police accounts that the teenager was driving at the officer.

The officer's lawyer, Laurent-Franck Lienard, told BFMTV late Thursday that his client had apologised as he was taken into custody.

"The first words he pronounced were to say sorry, and the last words he said were to say sorry to the family," Lienard said.


Earlier on Thursday, Nanterre public prosecutor Pascal Prache had said: "The prosecution considers that the legal conditions for the use of the weapon" by the police officer who fired the shot "are not met".

The government is desperate to avoid a repeat of the 2005 protests, sparked by the death of two boys of African origin in a police chase, during which 6,000 people were arrested.

"There are all the ingredients for another explosion potentially," one government adviser told AFP on condition of anonymity on Wednesday.

Concern about the police using their weapons to stop drivers who refused to stop for traffic checks has been growing.

Last year, 13 people were killed after refusing to stop for police traffic checks, with a law change in 2017 that gave officers greater powers to use their weapons now under scrutiny.