French Riots Begin to Abate Even as Economic Costs Mount

Tensions abated slightly in France during a fifth night of unrest as authorities sought to contain the fallout from the killing of a teenager that’s reignited debate about racism and inequality.

(Bloomberg) — Tensions abated slightly in France during a fifth night of unrest as authorities sought to contain the fallout from the killing of a teenager that’s reignited debate about racism and inequality.

The riots and looting, which have drawn comparisons with America’s reaction to the murder of George Floyd in 2020, have become a moment of reckoning for the country which has experienced repeated protests in recent years over such issues as pension reforms and the higher cost of living.

President Emmanuel Macron has called a meeting with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and other ministers later Sunday to discuss the situation. 

Amid a heavy police presence nationwide, some 719 people were arrested overnight, down from more than 1,300 the night before, according to the government. Authorities deployed 45,000 police, special brigades and armed vehicles on streets that have been overrun with youths setting fires and attacking officers, public buildings and shops.

While Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on Twitter of a “calmer night,” clashes still occurred in cities like Marseille in a sign that the crisis isn’t over. 

“We’re not crying victory,” Laurent Nunez, Paris police commissioner, said in an interview on BFM TV. Officers deployed along the Champs-Elysees headed off plans for riots that had appeared on social media, he said, adding that special attention was also being paid to shopping centers that are being targeted by “delinquents.”

Politicians are rallying to condemn one attack in particular, the ramming and burning of a car at the home of the mayor of L’Hay-les-Roses, a suburb of Paris. Stephane Hardouin, a public prosecutor, said authorities were investigating “attempted murder” after the mayor’s partner and two young children escaped the house through a back door.

Borne and Darmanin visited the town Sunday. “We’ll continue to bring order as quickly as possible,” Borne said. “No mayor will be left alone.”

The unrest poses a political risk for Macron, who canceled a state visit to Germany that was supposed to start Sunday. Macron and Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti have called on parents and social media companies to help bring an end to the violence.  

The economic costs of the unrest are also mounting. On Saturday, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said some 10 shopping malls, more than 200 supermarkets, 250 tobacco shops and 250 bank outlets had been attacked or looted the previous night. 

“All types of businesses have been targeted, especially those with valuable merchandise,” Jean-Luc Chauvin, head of the Chamber of Commerce of Aix Marseille Provence, told France Info. A first estimate by insurers put damages at more than €100 million ($109 million), a number that will undoubtedly rise, he said. 

LVMH fashion label Celine canceled its menswear show scheduled for Sunday in Paris while authorities curtailed public transport in some cities and pulled cultural events like concerts.

A private funeral was held Saturday at a mosque in Nanterre for the 17-year-old boy of North African descent called Nahel who was shot Tuesday at close range in a car. 

The officer who fired the shot has been charged with murder and is in pre-trial detention. Laurent-Franck Lienard, a lawyer for the officer, told Europe 1 radio that the policeman believed he needed to shoot.

Policing Practices

Nahel’s mother, identified only as Mounia, said in an interview with France 5 that she didn’t blame the police force. “I blame one person, the one who took my son’s life,” she said. 

France’s unrest harks back to 2005 when weeks of riots followed the death of two boys in an electricity substation after a police chase. It has thrown a spotlight on French policing practices as well as long-simmering tensions in poorer suburbs. 

In 2005, the French government declared a state of emergency that lasted close to two months, a move Macron has so far avoided.

–With assistance from William Horobin, Ania Nussbaum and Richard Bravo.

(Updates from third paragraph.)

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