France Plans to Keep Massive Police Presence to Quell Riots

French authorities will maintain a massive police deployment overnight in an effort to ensure a continued drop in the unrest that has hit the country for the past week.

(Bloomberg) — French authorities will maintain a massive police deployment overnight in an effort to ensure a continued drop in the unrest that has hit the country for the past week.

While the violence has ebbed, the shooting of Nahel, a 17-year-old of North African descent, remains a flashpoint in a crisis over racism and inequality in France that has highlighted serious tensions in the country’s ethnically mixed suburban neighborhoods.

Some 45,000 police and other forces will be on the ground across the country, the same as the past few nights, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

“The instructions are the same,” he said. “As soon as there’s something that doesn’t comply with the law or is creating public disorder: firmness, arrest, presentation before a judge.”

The number of vehicles burned or buildings damaged has dropped each night since peaking on Thursday while the number of nightly arrests has fallen since Friday, government data show. All told, some 3,200 people have been arrested since unrest began a week ago.

In addition to going after official buildings, one attack in particular has brought widespread condemnation — the ramming of a burning car into the home of the mayor of L’Hay-les-Roses, a Paris suburb. His wife and two young children escaped the house through a back door.

“Democracy itself is under attack,” the mayor, Vincent Jeanbrun, said on Monday after leading a march surrounded by supporters through the town. “Each of its symbols is being targeted today.”

“That’s enough!” he shouted, the chant picked up and repeated back by the crowd.

Meeting Mayors

On Tuesday, Emmanuel Macron will meet with the mayors of about 220 towns hit by violence to discuss the situation. 

The unrest is another political minefield for the French president after he pushed through an increase in France’s retirement age this year that was preceded by months of strikes and protests. Images of riot police once again battling in the streets further tarnish the country’s reputation, potentially adding to the economic toll just as the government faces pressure to speed up debt reduction.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire will meet with a Citroen car dealer who’s lot was ransacked and other store owners in a town south of Paris on Tuesday.

The French opposition at both ends of the political spectrum has seized on the crisis as evidence that the government is failing to ensure public safety and narrow economic disparity.

Labor unrest and street demonstrations happen regularly in France but have taken on a more intense and confrontational tone in recent years, reflecting divisions within French society. Before the pension protests and the pandemic, the so-called Yellow Vest movement caused widespread property damage. 

Nahel, whose last name has officially been withheld by authorities, was buried Saturday in Nanterre, his hometown where he was shot at close range in a car. The officer who fired the gun 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.

–With assistance from James Regan.

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