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France unrest: Riots spread, thousands march in memory of shot teenager

LAYLI FOROUDI and NOEMIE OLIVE

PRESIDENT Emmanuel Macron fought to contain a mounting crisis as unrest erupted for a third day over the deadly police shooting of a teenager of Algerian and Moroccan descent during a traffic stop in a Paris suburb.

Forty thousand police officers were to deploy across France — nearly four times the numbers mobilised on Wednesday — but there were few signs that government appeals to de-escalation in the violence would quell the widespread anger.

In Nanterre, the working-class town on the western outskirts of Paris where 17-year-old Nahel M. was shot dead on Tuesday, protesters torched cars, barricaded streets and hurled projectiles at police following a peaceful vigil.

Protesters scrawled “Vengeance for Nahel” across buildings and bus shelters.

Local authorities in Clamart, 8 km (5 miles) from central Paris, imposed a nighttime curfew until Monday.

Valerie Pecresse, who heads the greater Paris region, said all bus and tram services would be halted after 9 p.m. after some were set alight the previous night.

Macron’s government dismissed calls from some political opponents for a state of emergency to be declared, but towns and cities nationwide were bracing for further rioting.

“The response of the state must be extremely firm,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said, speaking from the northern town of Mons-en-Baroeul where several municipal buildings were set alight.

The incident has fed longstanding complaints of police violence and systemic racism inside law enforcement agencies from rights groups and within the low-income, racially mixed suburbs that ring major cities in France.

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The local prosecutor said the officer involved had been put under formal investigation for voluntary homicide and would be held in prison in preventive detention.

Under France’s legal system, being placed under formal investigation is akin to being charged in Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions.

“The public prosecutor considers that the legal conditions for using the weapon have not been met,” Pascal Prache, the prosecutor, told a news conference.

SINGLE BULLET

The teenager was shot during Tuesday’s morning rush hour. He initially failed to stop after the Mercedes AMG he was driving was spotted in a bus lane. Two police officers caught up with the car in a traffic jam.

When the car made to get away, one officer fired at close range through the driver’s window. Nahel died from a single shot through his left arm and chest, Nanterre public prosecutor Pascal Prache said.

Burning vehicles are seen in a street amid clashes between protesters and police during a march in tribute to Nahel, a 17-year-old teenager killed by a French police officer during a traffic stop, in Nanterre, Paris suburb, France, June 29, 2023. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

The officer has acknowledged firing a lethal shot, the prosecutor said, telling investigators he wanted to prevent a car chase, fearing he or another person would be hurt after the teenager allegedly committed several traffic violations.

Nahel was known to police for previously failing to comply with traffic stop orders, Prache said.

Macron on Wednesday said the shooting was unforgivable. As he convened his emergency meeting he also condemned the unrest.

VIGIL MARCH

At a march in Nanterre in memory of Nahel, participants railed against what they perceived as a culture of police impunity and a failure to reform law enforcement in a country that has experienced waves of rioting and protests over police conduct.

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“We demand that the judiciary does its job, otherwise we’ll do it our way,” a neighbour of Nahel’s family told Reuters at the march.

Thousands thronged the streets. Riding atop a flatbed lorry, the teenager’s mother waved to the crowd wearing a white T-shirt reading “Justice for Nahel” and the date of his death.

The unrest has revived memories of riots in 2005 that convulsed France for three weeks and forced then-president Jacques Chirac to declare a state of emergency.

That wave of violence erupted in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois and spread across the country following the death of two young people electrocuted in a power substation as they hid from police.

Two officers were acquitted in a trial ten years later.

Tuesday’s killing was the third fatal shooting during traffic stops in France so far in 2023, down from a record 13 last year, a spokesperson for the national police said.

There were three such killings in 2021 and two in 2020, according to a Reuters tally, which shows the majority of victims since 2017 were Black or of Arab origin.

Karima Khartim, a local councillor in Blanc Mesnil north east of Paris, said people’s patience was running thin.

“We’ve experienced this injustice many times before,” she said.

By The African Mirror

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