French Riots Over Killing Start to Ease as Economic Costs Mount

A fifth night of unrest across France was more subdued as authorities contained the fallout from the killing of a teenager that has reignited debate about racism and inequality.

(Bloomberg) — A fifth night of unrest across France was more subdued as authorities contained the fallout from the killing of a teenager that has 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 reform and the higher cost of living.

Amid heavy police presence in cities and towns across the country, some 719 people were arrested overnight, down from more than 1,300 the night before, according to the government. Authorities deployed 45,000 police, including in Lyon and Marseille, after streets were previously overrun with youths setting fires and attacking officers, public buildings and stores. 

While Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on Twitter of a “calmer night,” reports describing clashes in Marseille and the ramming and burning of a car at the home of a mayor of a suburb outside the French capital indicate that the crisis isn’t over. Authorities are investigating the attack, calling it “attempted murder.” The mayor’s partner and two young children escaped the house through a back door, public prosecutor Stephane Hardouin said on Sunday.

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

The economic costs of the unrest are 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 also pulled cultural events like concerts in some regions to prevent public gatherings.

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. Pascal Prache, the Nanterre prosecutor, has said the legal conditions for the use of a weapon were not met.

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.

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