Riots in France Stretch Into a Fifth Night After Police Killing

The French government said rioting and violence were more subdued in the fifth night of unrest since a police officer killed a teenager in a suburb northwest of Paris.

(Bloomberg) — The French government said rioting and violence were more subdued in the fifth night of unrest since a police officer killed a teenager in a suburb northwest of Paris.

The police arrested 427 people overnight, down from more than 1,300 the night before. The government deployed 45,000 officers across the nation to try to curb the violence, which resulted in ransacked shops and damaged buildings.

The unrest poses a political risk for French President Emmanuel Macron, who canceled a state visit to Germany that was supposed to start Sunday so he could deal with the domestic situation. Earlier in the week, Macron called on parents and social medial to help bring an end to the violence.

“Quieter night thanks to the resolute action of the police who have made 427 arrests since the start of the evening,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on Twitter early Sunday.

A private funeral was held Saturday at a mosque in a suburb near Paris for the 17-year-old boy of North African descent, Agence France-Presse reported. The unrest, which has drawn comparisons with America’s reaction to the murder of George Floyd in 2020, is growing into a moment of reckoning for France.

The funeral of Nahel took place in Nanterre, where he was fatally shot at close range in a car. Video posted on social media showed two police officers leaning into the vehicle, with one of them shooting as the driver pulls away. Authorities haven’t released Nahel’s last name.

The officer who fired the shot on Nahel has been charged with murder and is being held in pre-trial detention. Pascal Prache, the Nanterre prosecutor, said Thursday the legal conditions for the use of a weapon were not met.

Ten shopping malls, more than 200 supermarkets, 250 tobacco shops and 250 bank outlets were attacked or looted, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Saturday.

“The violence and looting across the nation is totally unacceptable,” he said. “These acts are inexcusable.”

Laurent-Franck Lienard, a lawyer for the officer, told Europe 1 radio that the policeman believed he “needed” to shoot.

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. “He saw an Arab face, a little kid. He wanted to take his life.”

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 the country’s poorer suburbs. 

In 2005, the French government declared a state of emergency that lasted close to two months. 

While Macron has avoided that step for now, authorities on Friday ordered the cancellation of some events and gatherings.

The unrest is particularly troubling for the French government, which already faced down months of protests over an unpopular pension reform law that got as many as 1.28 million people to protest as recently as March. Those marches petered out in May as French labor unions acknowledged that they had failed to force Macron to back down.

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